We interrupt the previously scheduled blog post to bring breaking news from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, where <gasp> Rich joined me for sunrise this morning and <woo hoo!> we saw a pair of hatchling Loggerhead Sea Turtles make their return to the sea!!
When I was a kid, my cousins and I got to help release Loggerhead sea turtle hatchings at the Loggerhead Park “turtle museum” in Juno Beach. When I met Rich and found out about his love of all things turtle, I started daydreaming about taking Rich to the beach and showing him sea turtles in the wild. We’ve done two turtle walks, one at Loggerhead Park and then another a few weeks ago at Archie Carr. But as cool as it was to see the mother turtles laying their eggs, I wanted Rich to see the hatchlings as they make their way down the beach and encounter the ocean for the first time. It’s amazing to think that the mother lays the eggs and returns to the water without waiting for the babies to hatch, and about two months later, the babies fight their way to the water and grow up without ever meeting Mom. This morning, we finally got to see babies…
We got to the beach around 6:15, about 15 minutes before sunrise. I didn’t have great expectations. You really have to be in the right place at the right time to see a wild turtle. I hoped we might see a mother who was still laying eggs, but I didn’t really expect to see babies. Still, you don’t succeed if you don’t try. The sunrise was beautiful and we spotted dolphins in the water. Then we noticed a small group of photographers up in the dunes. They had seen a green sea turtle lay her eggs and dig up another nest, whose babies were ready to hatch. There were two stragglers left in the nest hole…
The hatchings were tiny. And feisty! Rich commented that turtles are much tougher than my baby Sandhill Crane colts, who often collapse in the grass and rest while they run around after their long-legged parents. The turtles don’t have parents to watch out for them as they make the perilous journey down the beach. At any point, seagulls can swoop down and grab them, ghost crabs can eat them, or a dog running on the beach can kill them. The hatchlings are tiny and defenseless and they have a will to make it to the ocean. It was incredible to watch.
The first hatchling chose the biggest mound of seaweed to cross. He plowed fearlessly right through it, rather than trying to find a way around it. Here he emerged victorious and found the smooth path of sand wet by the waves.
Once he was on flat sand, he was home free. Instinct guided him to make a run for the waves, and it was so cool to see him dive headfirst into the surf.
Oops! The tiny turtle was swept up in the water and deposited farther up on the beach! He tried several more times to run into the waves and get himself swept up into Big Blue. The ocean wasn’t too welcoming. At one point, the waves deposited him upside down on the sand! He squirmed for a few moments until another wave caught him up and carried him out to sea. He’ll swim until he finds a clump of sargassum algae, which will become his home as he grows up. If “he” is actually a “she”, she’ll return someday to exact same beach to lay her own eggs. Other than brief intervals on land to lay eggs, the rest of her life will be spent at sea.
After watching the first hatchling disappear into the waves, we headed back to the nest hole to watch the second hatchling. He wasn’t too sure how to climb out of that deep hole. First he tried one side, then he tried another, and finally he decided to just huff and puff and push himself out. It looked exhausting.
The second hatchling had an easier time getting to the water. The waves were kind to him and swept him up right away. You can see his tiny tracks as he makes his way to the water…
Pretty soon all that was left on the beach were the empty shells of the turtles.
The smile on Rich’s face was priceless. It was well worth the 3am wakeup call! :-)
After we left, I realized that I had been so focused on getting detailed images of the babies, that I had forgotten to “zoom back” and capture an image of the big picture. But Rich hadn’t. As the first baby made his run for the water, Rich pulled out his iPhone and took a video. The perspective is so amazing with the tiny turtle bravely making his way home.
It was an incredible morning. We’re already making plans for our next visit. In the meantime, I enhanced the colors in this final image a bit to emphasize the sunrise colors of the ocean as the tiny turtle heads home. That’s how I want to remember this morning. :)