Island gets first turtle hatching of season
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Kids from Project Sea Turtle
learn what the numbers on the stakes mean.
The first turtle nest hatched on the Island Saturday night, but how many hatchlings made it to the sea won’t be known for a couple of days.
"We can’t tell you how many hatchlings there were until we excavate and count the eggs," Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox said. "We always wait several days to give slower ones a chance to emerge and then we make a count from what remains in the nest."
When the volunteers dig down into a hatched nest, sometimes they find live babies, stragglers who haven’t crawled out of the nest yet. These are collected and usually released that same evening. That way they aren’t kept too long and they will have the protection of darkness to offer them a better chance of surviving.
In addition to stragglers, the volunteers determine the number of eggs that were laid and hatched. Each piece of shell is removed from the nest, sorted and counted.
Unhatched eggs are also removed the turtle volunteers note whether or not the egg was fertile and whether or not there the embryo had started to develop but for some reason died in the shell. Dead hatchlings are also noted.
All that data is kept for each nest laid on the Island over the course of turtle nesting season. The results are forwarded to Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission and put together with other turtle conservation programs all over the state to give an annual report on the nesting conditions and numbers in Florida for each year.
Knowledge about threats to sea turtle survival and trends in nesting are continuously emerging from the reports, which are kept in Florida and also on other nesting habitats around the world as the scientists keep expanding their knowledge of the threatened and endangered species of sea turtles.
A primer on stake reading
People are always curious about the numbers on the stakes that surround each turtle nest, according to Fox.
"The beach is divided up into sections," she said. "The top number refers to the section number and nest number in that section."
For example, if the top number reads 12/6, that means that the nest is in section 12 and it was the sixth nest laid in that section this season.
The second number documents the date the nest was laid, and the third number is the date at which the volunteers will start checking that nest for signs of hatching.
"Sometimes you get a little depression in the sand in the middle of the nest," Fox said. "And sometimes you don’t. That’s just the date at which I want the walkers to start paying attention for a closer monitoring of that nest."
Fox said nesting is slowing way down now, and though there could be new nests right into early September, the focus of her volunteers will be turning more and more to the hatching part of turtle nesting season.
AMITW is offering beach tours full of information about sea turtles in general and their nesting on Island beaches in particular.
The tours take place Wednesdays and Saturdays. People gather at 8 a.m. at the picnic tables to the south of Café on the Beach at the Manatee Public Beach.
People who are interested are asked to call ahead so there will be enough informational material for everyone attending. The number to call is 778-5698.