12 June 2008

The turtles on Pensacola Beach reached a landmark today, as Sally found the third nest on that section of beach early this morning.

Monica and I joined Sally at about 6:30 to find and move the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) eggs, since the nest was only 35 feet from the water and in a very high truck traffic zone.

Yup, that's me with my arm buried in the sand. Moving a nest is pretty delicate work -- for example, temperature and humidity has to be controlled as much as possible, movement must to be minimal, eggs can't be rotated, and hands must be clear of sunscreen, bug spray or any other chemicals.

We try to keep count of the eggs as we remove them and double check as we place them in the new nest. We also try to place each egg in the same nest position that it was originally, or close to it. So, eggs from the bottom of the nest are on the bottom, eggs from the middle in the middle, etc. The cooler keeps them cool and dry (in case of passing storms, like those we had this morning).

The new nest location is also important as it has to be free from sea oat roots, dry enough that it doesn't flood and moist enough to allow gas and water exchange through eggs shells, and close to the pivotal temperature so there are both make and female hatchlings, among other things. A nest that is too cold is all male, too warm, all female, too far to either extreme, and it won't hatch at all.

There's an art to picking the right turtle nest spot, and we don't have all the necessary equipment, or know all the environmental cues to look for. Turtles are still a riddle in many ways. A hundred years ago, nest site selection wasn't as important as there were literally millions of sea turtles. Turtles would dig up each others eggs, crawl on top of each other and run into turtle traffic jams on the way back to the beach. That's far from the case today, so each nest is precious!

Finding a nest is a great way to start the day. It's good to know the ninety-four eggs are now nestled safely at the base on the dunes just north of the nest.

I was happy to see that all the beach walkers this morning stopped to see what was going on. Turtles are such a joy to watch when they nest and hatch (under controlled circumstances, of course) that everyone who visits the beach should experience once. If you do see a nest or a hatchling, please remember to call us at the Gulf Islands National Seashore!

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