Independence Day Turtle Walk

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Rich and I arrived at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge about 45 minutes before sunrise on July 4. It was an incredible morning. As soon as we stepped onto the sand, Rich said, “hey! Babies!!” The day just got better from there…

It’s pretty dark 45 minutes before sunrise. The dawn was pink on the horizon. There were 5-10 babies moving silently through the sand on their way to the ocean. We had to be very careful not to step on them. It was so dark that it was almost impossible to take pictures (you can’t use flash around turtles as the light disorients them). I dialed up the ISO to the maximum value and laid down at the edge of the waves, trying to capture the hatchling’s first introduction to the great ocean.

Turtle Hatchling at Sunrise
Turtle Hatchling at Sunrise

After seeing the last hatchling enter the water safely, we did a happy dance and started our walk down the beach. We only walked a little way before we saw sand being tossed in the dunes. A Green Sea turtle mom was nesting. We stood waiting for her to finish — Rich later dubbed her “Slowpoke Turtle” — but it was well worth the wait. Why? We found more babies! Several more hatchlings crept down the beach, and this time, there was enough light to photograph them.

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling

One of the hatchlings moved in the tracks that the nesting mother had made as she moved up the beach. The baby turtles will never meet their own mom. They make their way to the sea and then seek refuge in the sargassum as they grow up. Eventually the females will make their way back to the same beach where they themselves were born. Pretty cool, huh?

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling Walking in Adult Turtle Tracks

Finally Slowpoke Turtle finished covering her nest and started the slow crawl back to the ocean. I got a few close-ups and a short video. Still pictures just don’t capture the labor of the heavy turtle as she drags herself along the beach.

Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting
Green Sea Turtle Nesting Mother
Green Sea Turtle Crawls back to Ocean

I moved to the waves to capture her entrance to the water. The tide was coming in and the waves pounded on the back of my legs. I imagined that the the cool water felt amazing to the tired turtle. I was careful to stay out of her way, not wanting to make her go out of her way to avoid the photographer.

Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting
Green Sea Turtle Returning to Ocean after Nesting

It was an incredible morning. We resumed our walk on the beach, finding another hatchling. But the best part was yet to come. More on that in the next post! :)

Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling
Loggerhead Turtle Hatchling

Want to learn more about nature photography at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge?

Check out my Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

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