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Magical moments happen on the beaches of Florida under starry summer nights and few people see them. I’ve lived in Florida for more than 20 years and there are many Floridian experiences that I absolutely must have. However, there are many that I don’t have. One of those bucket list experiences in Florida is the hatching of a sea turtle nest. But recently at Englewood Beach I finally saw a sea turtle hatch while following volunteer sea turtle patrols.
During the morning hours of a slightly windy August morning, I ventured to Englewood Beach on Manasota Key. I parked on I want an inn There they currently offer all-day parking for non-guests valued at 15 USD. The sky was a steel gray color. As the sun rose, dreamy pastels of pinks and blues colored the sky over the Intracoastal Waterway. The sun finally rose over the mangroves, indicating that the day could begin.
Coastal Wildlife Club, keeper of the sea turtles of Englewood Beach
I met with Karen Blackford who was with the Friends of Stump Pass Beach State Park, among other things, good things in the Englewood community. She introduced me to Carol and Gene McCoy, two sea turtle patrol volunteers Coastal Wildlife Club. Carol is the chair of Friends of Stump Pass Beach State Park.
Every morning between mid-April and October, volunteers stroll along Charlotte County’s beaches early in the morning. They look for turtle trails that emerge from the coast and lead to the beach. This can indicate that a nest has been created. From early summer onwards, they look for signs of hatching or boiling at night. I’ve been told that when dozens of young animals emerge from a nest at the same time, it looks like a pot of water boiling over, which is why the term boiling is used.
Loggerhead carp are the most common sea turtles to nest on these beaches in southwest Florida, although green turtles and Kemp’s Ridley turtles nest on local beaches. Leather back and hawk beak are other species found in Florida.
When volunteers find a nest, they survey it carefully and mark it by forming a triangle with three yellow wooden stakes and orange tape. Each nest is documented and made available to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. It takes approximately 60 days for the eggs to incubate.
Why are they digging in a sea turtle nest?
On the morning’s program was the excavation of two nests that had hatched two days earlier. Coastal Wildlife Club volunteers typically dig nests two days after a hatch. They do this to keep a record of how many hatchlings have appeared.
There was a semicircle of shells partially around a depression in the sand and this marked a hatched nest. Volunteers carefully placed the clams two days earlier. Carol’s gloved hands dug into the nest and scooped out eggshells that looked like broken, rubbery ping-pong balls. Occasionally she would pull out a round, unhatched egg, which means it was not incubated.
Another volunteer named Karen drew eggshells in rows of ten. After the nest was removed, the contents were counted and documented and made available to FWC. This nest produced nearly 80 eggs with a handful of unhatched eggs. All the contents were put back in the nest and then filled with sand. A row of whole and broken shells was formed to indicate where the nest was.
The nest wasn’t that empty
The second nest was unusually close to the first, just a few meters away. Carol pulled out eggshells, more ping pong ball-like eggs, and one common find, a loggerhead sea turtle hatchling!
As soon as young animals emerge from a nest together, they instinctively scurry to the moonlight and into the ocean to begin another chapter of their lives. Sometimes Straggler pups stay in the nest, which is 18 to 22 inches deep. This nest had evidence of about 100 eggs.
The cub was laid in the sand and began its journey to the Gulf of Mexico (I don’t know if it was male or female). She looked like a wind-up toy as she struggled over the small mountains and canyons in the sand. When she reached the top of a small mountain about half an inch tall, she looked stuck as her little legs twisted around and around. But somehow she found the momentum to move forward.
After about 20 minutes, I watched her reach the coast and without notice, Mother Nature quickly wrapped her in a puff of sea foam and welcomed the cub to her new home.
The survival rate of a sea turtle is one in a thousand. In about 25-35 years she will return to Englewood Beach and lay her first nest for the next generation of sea turtles.
Do your part to protect the sea turtles
The breeding season for Florida sea turtles lasts from mid-April to October, although they may nest earlier and hatch later. Tips for visiting Florida beaches this time of year:
- If you are staying on the beach, turn off the lights or have turtle friendly lights. This includes turtles not being lit.
- When visiting the beach, be sure to pick up for yourself and bring sun loungers as these are obstacles and hazards.
- Play on the beach and dig anything you want but fill holes and knock down those sandcastles. These can be barriers for sea turtles to nest and hatch.
- Do not disturb or touch sea turtles or their nests. Watch them from afar.
- If you see a sea turtle, regardless of its size, in an emergency, dial * FWC on your cell phone or call FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).
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