By LORRAINE THOMPSON
Itâ€™s turning out to be a bumper crop for the protected sea turtle hatchlings this season. As of Friday (August 14) 215 of the 653 nests being monitored on St. Johns County ocean beaches have hatched. The current nest count exceeds the 442 nests monitored last year at this point of the season.
An estimated 19,878 hatchlings (averaging 92 per nest) have already left their nests and have headed out to sea.
That sounds like a huge number, however, research shows that only one in a thousand of those hatchlings will survive from egg to adulthood. And, once the mother creates a nest and lays its eggs, she abandons the nest and goes back to sea.
Recent counts of nests show 602 loggerheads, 31 greens, 19 leatherbacks and one Kemp ridleys. The north beaches draw the largest number of nesting turtles with a current total of 527. There are 89 nests on Anastasia Island and 37 at Matanzas Inlet South.
Sea turtles are given legal protection in the United States and its waters under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which lists the hawksbill, leatherback, Kempâ€™s ridley and green turtle as endangered. The loggerhead is listed as threatened. This designation makes it illegal to harm, harass or kill any sea turtles, hatchlings or their eggs. In the United States, the National Marine Fisheries Service has jurisdiction over sea turtles in the water, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for them on land.
St. Johns County beach turtle nests are monitored From May 1 to October 31 by a group of turtle patrol volunteers under the direction of Tara Dodson who heads the St. Johns County Habitat Conservation Section. The volunteers have been trained to identify, post off the nests and monitor them.
Left undisturbed, after approximately two months, the eggs hatch seding the two-inch long hatchlings seaward.
Light restrictions are in effect throughout the nesting season which ends October 31 or until the last nest has hatched. The hatchlings are attracted to lights either from autos or homes or businesses and may become disoriented. A single light can misdirect and contribute to the deaths of hundreds of hatchlings.
When the eggs begin to hatch, additional volunteers participate in the Sea Turtle Washback Program. The washback volunteers survey the wrack line (line of seaweed) for sea turtles which are called “washbacks” which are just a bit larger than a hatchling. Once the sea turtles hatch from their nests they swim in search of a large mass of seaweed where they find refuge and protection from larger predators. Storms and high tides from August through November often cause the seaweed masses to be pushed onto the beach.
Beach goers are asked to report any marine animals in distress to the Sheriff’s Dispatch, 904-824-8304. For further information go to www.sjcfl.us/hcp/index.aspx
Sea Turtle Trivia–
- A group of sea turtles is typically called a â€˜baleâ€™.
- Fewer than one in one-thousand sea turtles live from egg to adulthood.
- The temperature of the nest decides the sex of the turtles; temperatures above 84.2Â° F make more females, and temperatures below 84.2Â°F make more males.
- Hatchling sea turtles have to escape a gauntlet of predators, such as shore birds, ghost crabs, and insects to make it to the sea.
- During the first year after hatching, many species of sea turtles are rarely seen. This first year is known as the “unknown yearâ€
- Most researchers believe that they ride prevailing surface currents, situating themselves in floating seaweed where they rest and find food.