In the twenty or so years we have been coming to our favorite beach in North Carolina we have been fortunate to have witnessed three turtle boils. Correction...we have witnessed three Turtle Walks. We have not seen the actual boils, but I hear that is really something to behold. The nests, I am told by my Turtle Watch Patrol educators, can take three days for all the turtles to make their way to the top. Several 'batches' of hatchlings can walk over a period of one to three days. By the time we arrive to the turtle nests the two inch hatchlings are always on their way. Flippering down the trail dug and broom swept smooth by the loyal and so very important to their survival, Turtle Watch Patrol.
We have garnered our fair amount of turtle education through the years. One fact remains true, it is rare for a turtle to survive to adulthood. Mother Nature has many foes for the turtles and that they survive is truly a miracle. I have been told only one in ten thousand usually make it to adulthood. Tonight we heard of the sad side of turtle nests. I mentioned before we have four nests that are ready to boil in our vicinity. Last night, during a horrific storm filled with booming thunder and flashing lightning the nest to the left of our rental beach cottage had its boil. The nest had 179 eggs waiting to hatch. Fifty-nine walked last night. We were cowering under our covers listening to and watching the powerful show Mother Nature had on display. Out on the beach those brave and intrepid Turtle Watch Patrol workers were shining beacons...okay flashlights...to guide those fifty-nine little turtles towards the ocean and the terrifying journey of 50 miles to the Gulf Stream.
This evening, not knowing of the boil that transpired the night before I was out on the deck checking for signs of activity on the nest predicted to boil first. And I witnessed excited activity going on. Lots of gesturing by the Turtle Patrol and the moment I saw them pick up the ice chest I knew something was going on. I ran inside the cottage to let my family in on the excitement. We ran down the beach and wonder of wonders saw one of our favorite Beach Patrol ladies holding a baby turtle.
Actually, she was massaging its flipper...
Sadly, a ghost or 'sand' crab had penetrated the nest and had destroyed two eggs that we could see scattered to the side of the nest. The most distressing sight was the lifeless hatchling next to the empty shells. The hatchling in the pictures had survived the crab attack but had one of the flippers pinched. The Turtle Watch volunteer was madly massaging it to bring circulation to the flipper and hopefully strengthen it for the hatchling's first swim in the ocean.
Only one other hatchling at that time was moving about in the nest. After a few moments of massaging and watchful care by the Turtle Patrol the decision was made to let them walk to the ocean! We all held our breath as they flippered their way down the sand. The injured one was sort of going in circles. They kept turning it around towards the beacon of light provided by the flashlight they were holding. Hatchlings instinctively head for the glimmer of moonlight on the waves...or whitecaps. The only white light permitted while witnessing a turtle walk is the one held by the patrol. All other flashlights must be covered with a red cloth as turtles don't see red. We don't want to confuse the hatchlings as to where they are to head when making their way to the ocean.
Overhead was one lone seagull, fluttering its wings to stay in place above the trench. We all were holding our breath and pointing it out to the Turtle Patrol. After a few minutes of the two hatchlings staggering ever so slowly down the trench they picked them up and placed them in the ocean. (The turtles that survive need to have made the walk for at least a bit to imprint. They instinctively return to where they were hatched when they lay their eggs!) At first one washed back onto the shoreline...it was returned to the ocean by its protector. The little hatchlings ducked under the water and started swimming. When last spied, one had lifted its head for air and ducked back under on its way towards the Gulf Stream!
I learned that later this evening after a conference call to the 'Head Honcho' of the Turtle Watch Patrol it was decided to check that nest for any remaining live turtles for release. If they had other viable eggs (fertilized) they would put them back and hope the ghost crab did not return. Sadly, only an additional two hatchlings were in the nest. The other eggs were either unfertilized or destroyed by the ghost crab.
I'm going to be checking the other nests later. If I have a happy story I'll be sure to report in!
Thank goodness for the wonderful volunteers who are intent on saving our endangered turtles. They weather storms, heat, rain, raccoons, foxes and ghost crabs just to mention a few predators...all to help save our turtles.
Lily and her Mom are coming tomorrow...I hope she gets to see a turtle boil or walk!