Our late August turtle walk turned out to be our last of 2019. A week later, Hurricane Dorian thankfully spared Florida from the worst of its Category 5 winds, although the storm surge washed away a number of turtle nests. The UCF Marine Turtle Research group reported that 21% of the Loggerhead nests and 44% of the Green turtle nests were destroyed along the Archie Carr refuge. But on this beautiful morning before Dorian, the beach was empty and we enjoyed a sunrise walk.
This turtle track photo is a little different than the ones I’ve been posting all summer. It features not just one track, but many. Look closely at the foreground and you’ll see the tiny tracks made by dozens of turtle hatchlings who followed the same path as the adult turtle. The beach was full of hatchling tracks that morning.
We didn’t see an adult turtle that morning. Rich spotted one Loggerhead hatchling who made the furious crawl down to the water’s edge. I finally achieved my goal of photographing the tiny hatchling and the track he left in the sand. The waves grabbed him and drew him home as Rich and I looked on with smiles. We can’t wait for April and the start of the next turtle nesting season!
In early August, Rich and I returned to Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in search of sea turtles. Loggerhead turtle nesting was starting to wind down, but the Green sea turtles are having a high count year and will continue nesting during the month of August. August is also the beginning of Green hatchling season. I have yet to photograph a wild Green hatchling, so I was hopeful that maybe I’d get to see one on this visit. We didn’t – but we did see a tagged green sea turtle nesting on the beach.
As usual, we spotted the turtle when we noticed large quantities of sand being tossed around in the dunes. We followed the sand tosses to zero in on the nesting turtle.
After she finished throwing sand at us, she began the slow crawl back to the ocean.
The sun was just rising as the turtle made her way down to the waves. In the photo below, you can see the track she made hours earlier as she first crawled onto the beach. The straight ATV tracks closer to the water are made by the UCF Turtle Patrol that monitors turtle nesting every morning in the summertime.
The tide was going out, and the photo ops were much more attractive as the turtle reached the smooth sand near the water’s edge. The waves welcomed her home as she greeted the sunrise.
Here are some videos from that morning. The first part shows the turtle as she body-surfs down the sand dunes (right into the nest of another turtle, out of which the poor tired turtle had to crawl!) – and then as she made her way to the water.
I always enjoy photographing the tracks left by the turtles at sunrise. It’s amazing how quickly the water washes away the tracks.
This green turtle was originally tagged after laying her eggs on 13 Aug 2000. Since then, we saw this animal on 3 September 2000, 6 September 2007, and 6 September 2011. Great to know she’s still around.
Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research
If you’re curious, here’s what a turtle tag looks like. Remember to stay behind the turtle if you’re trying to read the tag.
Another weekend, another visit to Archie Carr with Rich to check on the nesting sea turtles. The Green Sea turtles are having a “high” year and are on track to exceed their nesting numbers from 2017. This kind of chance to photograph them only comes every two years, so carpe diem! The early morning walks are such a joy.
We arrived well before sunrise and started walking down the beach. We were on the lookout for turtles but I had to stop and photograph the sunrise colors. No two sunrises are ever alike, and each one is special.
A huge burst of sand revealed a nesting green turtle. It always surprises me how much sand those turtles can throw as they cover their eggs! The green turtles usually nest high up in the dunes. This particular turtle chose a spot in the middle of the beach, which gave me a chance to approach from a respectful distance and photograph her in the nest hole. Then she started to make her way down the beach…
The sun was just rising as the turtle pulled herself towards the waves. These scenes are tricky to photograph with such dynamic range in the scene, so I bracketed the images and applied HDR in post processing. My favorite place to photograph the turtles is as they approach the water, where the waves have swept all the footprints clean and you see the distinct track of the nesting turtle.
It was such a beautiful sunrise! I quickly ran around and tried for a different vantage point to better show the tracks. In this last image, you can just barely see the shell of the turtle as she submerges herself in the water. Two seconds later she was swimming away, happy to have completed her arduous night task!