In our last report (Outer Banks Sea Turtle Update: August 2010), we were still waiting for action on nest Number 3. Volunteers had been sitting nightly since Day 53. It was feared that this was a “dud” nest since there was no action during the expected hatching time. What a pleasant surprise to find 83 hatched eggs when the nest was opened for inventory. These little turtles probably all snuck out when a high tide washed over the nest on Day 52. All of the faithful volunteers were watching over a nest that had secretly hatched when they weren’t around. Snookered again by these incredible creatures!
Remember the single egg we collected from each nest for DNA sampling by the University of Georgia? (Two Nests, One Big Surprise in NC) Tests are not complete, but it has been determined that the same mother loggerhead laid nest Number 3 and nest Number 8.
This season was full of positive news, but probably the best news was that the Outer Banks sea turtle nests dodged the bullet of Hurricane Earl.
With Hurricane Earl on a straight path for the Outer Banks, nests 5, 6 and 7 would surely have been washed out by the high surf. All three of these nests had shown some action, so they were all excavated before the storm. Nest #5 had 89 empty egg shells. Nest #6 had 89 empty eggs shells and nest #7 had 84 empty eggs shells. What a special surprise to know so many little hatchlings were safe in the sea in the calm before the storm. Good thing the turtle moms came to nest early in the season on the Outer Banks.
With only two nests remaining it was time to wait, hope, and watch. Both nests 8 and 9 were laid late and were over washed during Hurricane Earl. With the developing embryos still safely in their shells, it was hoped that there would be no adverse effect from the storm. Luckily, the nests were not washed away. What a pleasant surprise when nest Number 8 hatched with 34 little turtles.
But the biggest surprise was saved for nest Number 9. This nest was lain very late in the season, on 13 August 2010. Rarely do the turtles fully develop when a nest is laid this late so far north. There just aren’t enough warm days left in the year to fully incubate the eggs. Surprise! On Day 62 of incubation, little turtles slowly began trickling out of the nest. The turtles emerged a few at a time early in the morning, or in the evenings, over a four-day period. They often were lethargic and seemed disoriented—probably from the cool air temperatures—but all safely made it to the sea. After 39 turtles had emerged, we decided that it was time to excavate. What a very pleasant surprise to find 35 more hatchlings deep in the sand and eager to begin their journeys.
The sand around their nest seemed to be so compacted that they were having trouble digging out. Do you think the sand was packed down because of the weight of the ocean during the hurricane? Without the early excavation, it is likely that many of these hatchings would have died while working their way to the surface.
With such a grand finale, we joyfully ended our 2010 sea turtle nesting season on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It has been an outstanding season with much success. We are more than grateful for our wonderful weather, our dedicated volunteers and, most of all, our healthy little turtles. This will be a season to remember.
(Written by Jackie Orsaluk, N.E.S.T. Volunteer)