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Turtle Tales

September 8, 2003

This morning I was fortunate enough to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event: a loggerhead nest "eruption"! WOW! I am still in shock, but will make an attempt to describe what happened.

This morning was one of those mornings where you doubt your volunteer spirit.  Kiawah is in the midst of the edges of Tropical Storm Henri.  Sheets of rain were coming down, and I wondered if I should even bother getting up to go on turtle patrol.  After all, it is not like the baby turtle tracks would be visible in all this rain!  But I was already up, so I thought "Why not?" and headed to the beach.

So there I was, in the pouring rain, walking along checking the turtle nests. I was about halfway finished checking my zone, when I spotted a lone baby turtle making its way to the water.  I was thrilled to see it, and walked closer to watch. Soon I saw another baby, then a third!  "How cool!", I thought. "I get to see baby turtles this morning." I started heading up towards the #189 nest marker, to make sure I knew which nest the babies were coming from. 

And that is when I saw the nest hatch - right while I was standing there!  I counted 48 baby loggerheads clambering out of the nest. They were in a giant jumble of baby parts - flippers, heads, and shells - all in a heap. They were scrambling all over the place! 

When telling folks about loggerheads, I have often tried to describe the "sand elevator" that the babies use to ride their way up to the top, then out of, the nest.  But seeing it in action really made it gel for me.  It was truly something - the babies were all squirming and on top of one another.  At times one would move just the right way (or the wrong way?) and one of the others would flip over on its back, only to right itself and continue making its way out of the nest.

The babies quickly scaled the dune and wriggled their way through the vegetation and onto the beach. Then I watched in awe as one by one they made their way to the sea.  As they swam off into the waves, I spotted them coming up for air occasionally.  One would surface briefly, take a breath of air, then swim like mad against the current. I thought about the twenty-four hour swim that faced them - a struggle with predators, waves, and today, the rain.  But soon they will be "safe" in the sargassum off our coast.  There they will stay while they grow up a bit, and continue their journey.

I sit here typing this with tears in my eyes.  I still cannot believe how fortunate I was this morning. What a fabulous reward for getting up early and doing turtle patrol!

by Kelly Bragg


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