Sunday, July 29, 2012

That First Turtle Nest...

The hatch date for the first nest on our beach came and went with no action.  The other happy vegan, who happens to be the beach coordinator for our beach territory waited late past the due date before deciding to excavate.  This nest was the one I briefly mentioned weeks ago as being a likely "wash out."  We all held our breath, crossed our fingers and hoped, but it was not to be.  Here's the skinny.

The night of the excavation, we headed down the beach with other Save a Turtle volunteers and all the things we needed to do the job. When we got to the area, immediately a site survey was done. The first thing noted was that the very harsh storms we had a few weeks ago caused beach erosion to the tune of at least one foot of protective dune vanished.  Gone.  That was another very bad sign. The other happy vegan checked the GPS coordinates, and then double checked the nest location with the triangulation method as well.  After that, myself and another volunteer set out to begin the excavation.  Very gently we began to brush away the sand at the site. Within just a few minutes, the other volunteer spotted the first egg. It was, most unfortunately, very obviously a non-viable egg.  The storms caused a few problems for this nest.  First, the water saturated the nest, likely causing drowning.  Next, the dune and sand was eroded, causing the nest to be closer to the surface. This causes the nest to actually "cook" in the sun, and causes death to the eggs. And, lastly, the water causes the sand to compact very hard, which puts immense pressure on the eggs.  When a momma turtle lays her eggs, they are deposited into an egg chamber and covered with sand by her rear flippers.  The sand is soft, non-compacted.  When water washes in on a nest and sit for long periods of time, the sand becomes very heavy and it compacts.  We had days of very high tides and harsh wave action.  All these things compromised this nest.

Here, the excavation is just beginning.  I'm on the right; we're very gently sweeping the sand away, little by little.
Once the first egg was located, we moved even more gently to sweep away sand and reveal eggs.  Once we discovered the next few eggs, we knew without a doubt there would be no live turtles from this nest.  The eggs were not round, rather they were dented, some were moldy and they were packed very tight together.  Every single egg in the nest was damaged.

Here, the first eggs are located.  I'm holding the sand back while my excavation buddy gently coaxes sand out from between the eggs.  It's hard to tell, but the eggs here are misshapen, dented actually.

I'm sorry things turned out this way for this nest, in fact, it was really one of the saddest moments of my turtle career to date.  There was a very well known and excellent veterinarian on site observing the excavation, who specializes in exotics and reptiles.  Upon inspecting the contents of one egg that we opened, he told us they succumbed very early in development; essentially they never really had a chance.  There were a total of 115 eggs in this nest.

Here, its very easy to see what I mean about the misshapen and dented eggs.  And, the mold/discoloring on the eggs.  These eggs have been irreparably damaged by Mother Nature.  So sad.

After all the data was collected, we re-buried the eggs back on site.  While I was there, I collected a full bag of trash, mostly rope and bottle caps.  Both those things are deadly to marine life.  The rope causes entanglement issues, and bottle caps cause choking hazards.

It took me a while to put this post up mostly because I didn't want to think about the excavation again.  But, I didn't want to miss an opportunity for education, so I'm telling you about it now.  We have 5 more nests on the beach, and I'll report on them all.  It's also still turtle nesting season, so we could still have more nests.  Coincidence or not, we have not had any more turtle action on our beach since those severe storms.  I don't know why.  The turtles are still out there, people are seeing them swimming in the ocean and out at the reef.  So, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed is all I can say.

Thanks for checking in.  As of now, there are no other nests that were washouts from the storm.  I'll keep you posted, while you keep thinking good turtle-y thoughts.

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