Baby sea turtles left behind in nests get helping hand to the sea
Janet Blackmon Morgan The Sun News
Volunteers in green shirts stood around a small, orange mesh square in the sand in Garden City on Tuesday night.
The mesh was protecting a relocated sea turtle nest. The nest had hatched three days ago, and now volunteers from the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE) group were ready to dig up the eggs, count them, and release any hatchlings that were left. The baby turtles would enter the ocean for their journey to the Sargasso Sea, where they’ll hide in the Sargasso grass until they’re large enough to fend for themselves in the open ocean.
But the outlook wasn’t promising.
Earlier, volunteers had seen flies on the Loggerhead nest. Flies have a tendency to feed on the baby turtles, as do other predators like coyotes, ants and racoons.
THEY’LL SWIM NON-STOP FOR THREE OR FOUR DAYS OR SOMETIMES MORE UNTIL THEY GET TO THE GULF STREAM.SCUTE co-coordinator Mari Armstrong
Some of the volunteers weren’t sure that there would be any living baby turtles left.
But their fears were unfounded.
After some delicate digging, the volunteers began to uncover the hatched eggs – along with two live hatchlings ready to swim.
The hatchlings slowly crawled toward the sea. Three times, waves crashing into the beach swept them back. After several minutes, they made it to the water.
“They’ll swim non-stop for three or four days or sometimes more until they get to the Gulf Stream,” said SCUTE co-coordinator Mari Armstrong. “Their umbilical cord, we call it their lunchbox. They absorb it, and that’s their supply of food until they get to the Gulf Stream. They won’t stop to eat, they won’t sleep, they’ll do nothing but swim straight out.”
THEY WON’T STOP TO EAT, THEY WON’T SLEEP, THEY’LL DO NOTHING BUT SWIM STRAIGHT OUT.SCUTE co-coordinator Mari Armstrong
The turtles will grow to weigh between 200 and 300 pounds as long as they don’t become food for another predator. After about 30 years, they’ll be ready to start laying eggs of their own and will continue to lay eggs every two or three years throughout their life. They can live more than 70 years.
This nest held 83 eggs, said Armstrong, and 83 percent made it to the Atlantic.
Volunteers from SCUTE walk the beaches from Georgetown to North Myrtle Beach every morning during the hatching season and report the number of nests, eggs, and the number of hatchlings to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
SCUTE co-founder Jeff McClary said that they’ve recorded 175 nests in their coverage area this year, but their record is 226. He said the state as a whole is seeing a record number of over 6,000 nests.
ONCE IT’S BLIND, IT DIES.SCUTE co-coordinator Mari Armstrong
Despite the record numbers, the Loggerheads are still an endangered species.
The most important things that people can do to help the turtles is turn out their lights and clean up after themselves, said Armstrong.
Turtles that hatch sometimes see lights from the beach houses and start crawling toward them. When that happens, they get caught in the dunes and die. People walking the beach at night with LED flashlights are also a threat.
EVEN THE LITTLE BABY TURTLES, WHEN THEY GET OUT THERE, THEY’RE GOING TO LOOK FOR LITTLE PIECES OF PLASTIC AND THEY END UP IN THE SEA TURTLE HOSPITAL WITH THEIR GUTS FILLED WITH PLASTIC.SCUTE co-coordinator Mari Armstrong
“They’re seeing hatchlings and they’re shining (flashlights) on them and they’re picking them up,” said Armstrong. “These turtles have never seen light. So imagine someone with an LED flashlight and they pick up that baby, and this is the first time they’ve ever seen light, you’re going to blind them. Once it’s blind, it dies.”
Finally, people need to clean up after themselves when spending the day at the beach.
“They leave everything on this beach,” she said. “It’s insane. I don’t understand it. And the turtles get caught up in the trash on the beach and they eat plastic. So even the little baby turtles, when they get out there, they’re going to look for little pieces of plastic and they end up in the sea turtle hospital with their guts filled with plastic.”