August 30, 2013
Turtle nest excavations are a big hit with visitors
By LARA RIZZUTI
a hot and sunny morning in late August, a large crowd of about 75 men,
women, children and even a few dogs huddled around a small beach
enclosure, outlined with black tarpaulin, just south of Ramp 27 on
Just days before, more than 100 baby
loggerhead sea turtles crawled along the same small stretch of sand as
they made their mass exodus from nest to sea. Unfortunately, some
of their kin remained trapped within the nest.
But, the National
Park Service excavated the nest -- to rescue any surviving hatchlings,
document hatch success, and retrieve valuable data. And, the seashore
staff members attracted scores of people looking to learn more about
sea turtles and hoping to catch a glimpse of a much beloved sea
Two National Park Service rangers oversaw the
operation. Kevin Chandler, who is often seen toting a large
turtle shell around Coquina Beach, explained the excavation process and
fielded questions from the audience, while James Yrigoyen, a biological
science technician, kneeled in the sand as he dug, by hand, through the
Yrigoyen worked swiftly, setting aside bits of eggshells
and unattached eggs found within the nest, and, after only five
minutes, he discovered a live baby loggerhead.
pictures with their cameras and inched even closer to Yrigoyen as he
briefly displayed the palm-sized hatchling.
actually better if we don’t find any sea turtles in the nest,” said
Chandler, surprising most of the observers. “Part of that,” he
explained, “is because they leave as a big group and their chance at
survival is a little bit greater and, among other things, they’re still
in this nest for a reason -- they either hatched late or are not as
strong as the others.”
And their chances at survival are low to
begin with. “Close to only one in 10,000 are expected to reach
sexual maturity,” says Yrigoyen.
As Yrigoyen continued to dig up
the nest, Chandler provided detailed and colorful answers to questions
that ranged in topic from general sea turtle information to specifics
about the National Park Service’s research and the data obtained from
Chandler described the nesting process of adult
female sea turtles and revealed that the number of eggs in a nest
correlates with the size of the female and, at the same time, that the
size of a turtle, which can reach up to 300 pounds, depends on its
ability to find food.
When an observer asked about determining
the sex of the hatchlings, Chandler explained that the temperature of
the sand during the incubation period, not genetics, determines its
sex. Chandler also described several differences between the
males and females, however, he directed further inquiries regarding
mating and gender to the parents, who groaned in anticipation of an
interesting car-ride home.
Once the nest was fully excavated,
Yrigoyen had retrieved a total of 14 live hatchlings, five dead
hatchlings, one turtle that died while hatching, and several unhatched
eggs. In total, the nest contained 145 eggs, 130 of which were
empty by the time the Park Service excavated the site and it was,
therefore, considered a very successful nest.
To ensure that all
surviving hatchlings were rescued and correct data was collected,
Yrigoyen examined each unhatched egg and those standing downwind
quickly learned, or rather smelled, that several eggs had not fully
Yrigoyen collected one egg for DNA research, but all
other eggshells and matter removed from the nest was returned so that
the natural cycle would remain intact and species, such as the ghost
crab, could feed upon the remains.
At the end of the excavation,
a few people took pictures with the rangers and asked further
questions, while some families made plans to watch sea turtle
The experience captivated both adults and children.
Tyler, a 9-year-old from Virginia, has not studied sea turtles in
school, but loves them and thought that the excavation was “pretty
For Cambria Anderson of Idaho and Kandice Butte of
Tennessee, the experience exceeded their expectations. Their
children wanted to see sea turtles and they never imagined that they
could outside of an aquarium. “It was amazing, absolutely
incredible,” reflected Butte.
And many who attended the
excavation made plans to watch the park rangers release the 14
hatchlings later that night at Coquina Beach. They felt lucky
that they were able to witness both the excavation and the release of
the surviving turtles.
The National Park Service opened the
turtle nest excavations to the public this year with the idea that the
program would provide a forum to talk to people and educate them about
sea turtles. It is an interactive program in a natural setting
that allows folks to see marine activity and hopefully encourages them
to protect the sea turtles, and other wildlife, in the future.
those interested in attending a sea turtle nest excavation, call the
excavation program hotline for specific details at (252)
475-9629. Park rangers, roaming through the villages or on the
beach, may also have information about impending excavations.
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