Tonight (well, yesterday now), around 6:30 p.m., most of the turtle team for Keys beach and two volunteers from North Friars met at North Friars to excavate a nest that had hatched the night before. North Friars hatching rate is much, much higher than that of Keys and I had not seen any hatchlings naturally crawling out of their nest up until this point. Daisy and Sebastian were responsible for discovering the nest and counted approximately 27 hatchling crawls from the night before and found 8 hatchlings on the beach in the morning. Sebastian said he named a hatchling Lionel because he was trying to get out of the nest “all night long.” Music Festival was last weekend and he apparently was still in the spirit of it all. Lionel Richie was one of the musical acts. I didn’t go, of course, because I was patrolling the beach.
When we arrived, we found two Leatherback hatchlings would had just reached the very top of the nest. A crew of around 10 people, including myself, pulled out their cameras and began taking videos and photos (no flash photography, of course). I got a few pictures with one of the hatchlings! After Dr. Stewart rinsed off the hatchlings and set them aside in the cooler, we began the excavation. Everyone seemed to get involved. There were at least four people digging at once and others waiting patiently to begin sorting the eggs. I watched from afar this time due to the fact that the students had not had much of a chance to excavate any nests and I have had at least a little bit of experience. As they dug, they pulled out 10 live hatchlings and 9 dead hatchlings along with a variety of hatched and unhatched eggs (we open them and decide if they’re early stage, late stage, or undeveloped). If an unhatched egg contains a late stage hatchling, we check if they are alive or dead. If they’re alive, they may reabsorb their yolk sac within a few days and can be released. All of our late stage hatchlings were dead. The dead hatchlings and open eggs smell quite horrible.
As one of the students dug farther and farther into the nest, she began to sink into it.
Student: “Uh, could someone hold onto my ankles? I feel like I’m going to fall into the nest.”
Me: “Do you really want someone to hold your ankles?”
Student: “Yeah, if you don’t mind.”
And that became my job, haha. Dr. Stewart got a few photos so maybe I’ll post them. It’s pretty funny.
After the excavation was complete and all of the eggs were sorted, it was time to release the hatchlings. My favorite part. Dr. Stewart assigned each turtle team member and guest two hatchlings.
“If you lose these turtles, you are responsible for killing a member of a critically endangered species.” Haha, a little nerve wracking.
All 9 of us lined up side by side and placed our turtles on the ground in front of us. No lights, no flash photography, full attention on the hatchlings. Most of us got down on our hands and knees and crawled forward as our hatchlings did so. There was a little bit of light pollution behind us and it seemed to confuse our hatchlings. My hatchlings kept turning around and going the wrong direction but with a little patience and some readjusting, we soon made it close to the waters’s edge.
The turtle enthusiasts, including myself:
“You can do it, little hatchling!”
“You’re almost there! Did you feel the water?”
“Aw, mine keeps going in the wrong direction. It’s okay, little turtle, this way.”
As we got closer to the water’s edge, it became more difficult to keep an eye on the hatchlings. The waves would crash over the little turtles and take them a distance before receding back into the ocean. and everyone would freeze to make sure all hatchlings were accounted for before moving their feet. Eventually, a large wave pulled my hatchlings into the ocean and the deed was done. I had successfully followed and released two Leatherback hatchlings. Who knows, maybe one of them will be back on that very beach in a few decades. But … 1 in a 1000. After what seemed to be the last of the hatchlings had reached the ocean, we did a quick sweep with a red head lamp just to be sure. One hatchling was left. After a few minutes, he, too, had reached the ocean.
I don’t think I ever expected to be crawling through sand on my hands and knees with a couple of Leatherback hatchlings alongside the people I had worked with all season. It was more than rewarding and an experience I’ll never forget.