Baby sea turtles emerging from nests
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
Some baby turtles found alive
in an excavated nest crawl
around in a bucket awaiting
release into the Gulf.
Turtle eggs deposited in Island sand early in the nesting season are hatching almost nightly now.
Sunday evening, volunteers from Anna Maria Turtle Watch excavated four nests one after the other.
"We started at about 5:30 and finished up by 9:30," Fox said near a nest that her group was excavating just north of the beach access at Park Avenue in Anna Maria.
Volunteers wait three days after hatching and then excavate the nest to get a count of how many babies emerged from the nest, how many eggs were left unhatched and how many dead turtles are in the nest.
"It’s not too unusual to find a live hatchling in the nest once in a while," Fox said, as Debbie Basilius and Cyndi Alderman gently dug down into the hatched nest.
"You feel for the eggs, but you have to be very careful not to break any," Fox said. "And you don’t want to damage any babies that are down in there."
In the Park Avenue nest, two live hatchlings and four live pips were found.
"A pip is an egg from which the baby has partially emerged," AMITW volunteer Jackie Skarritt explained to Josh Hendricks, 10, from St. Petersburg. Josh was visiting his grandparents, Bill and Dody Hendricks, of Anna Maria.
When live babies are found, they’re placed on damp sand in a bucket that’s then covered with a damp towel. The babies are released later the same night along with other hatchlings to increase their chances of survival.
People walking past on the beach came up to the nest to watch, and Skarritt gently lifted the towel so people could see the hatchlings scrambling around in the bucket.
AMITW volunteers are always willing to share information with people on the beach, so each excavation turns into a mini seminar on sea turtle nesting in on Anna Maria in particular and the threats and problems faced by threatened and endangered marine reptiles in general.
Hatchlings face threats from birds onshore and fish in the water after they emerge from their nests, scramble into the Gulf and swim to the safety of the grasses offshore.
"Only about one in every thousand turtles makes it to age 30, which is when they’re mature enough to reproduce," Fox said. "They face a lot of odds."
One of the most serious problems is man made. Lights on the beach can lure the hatchlings away from the relative safety of the warm Gulf waters. When the hatchlings are lured away, it’s called a disorientation.
"The babies can get killed in traffic, they can dry out and die; it’s a serious threat," Fox noted.
As the hatched and unhatched eggs in the Park Avenue nest were counted, Fox had a question.
"How many turtle people does it take to excavate a nest?"
"Holy Hannah," said Skarritt.
"As many as want to," said Alderman, one of seven volunteers out on the beach donating their time to gather the statistics from the nest, which they will forward to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission at the end of the season.