Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sea Turtles Nesting in Palm Coast, Florida

My husband, Dan, is standing beside a nest of sea turtle eggs at Cinnamon Beach, a condominium resort in the town of Palm Coast which is halfway between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine on Florida's Atlantic Coast. We attended a family gathering there during the last week in June. I had no idea that sea turtles nest in Florida, so finding these nests was a delightful surprise. Little did I know that the East Coast of Florida is the world's second largest nesting site for loggerhead turtles.

Although loggerheads are the most common, leatherbacks and green sea turtles are also known to nest in the area. All are classified as either threatened or endangered and are protected by state and federal laws. Here's a closeup of the sign posted on all the nest sites:

According to the Volusia and Flagler Turtle Patrol, turtles have been nesting on beaches there for 100 million years. The Atlantic coast nesting season extends from March through October. Each nest contains up to 100 eggs. The eggs incubate in the sand for 50-70 days before the little turtles break out of their shells and scramble down the beach towards the water. Click here to see a Turtle Patrol video of a hatchling crawl across the beach and dive into the surf! (Be patient while the video loads. It's worth the wait!)

In our condo I found a copy of the Turtle Patrol's brochure (page 1 and page 2). It warns against behaviors which might prevent hatchlings from finding their way to the water. For example, light can disorient the hatchlings who generally make their run from the beach to the water at night. Apparently they head towards the glow of the horizon. Flashlights or lights from nearby houses can cause them to be confused and to head away from the water. The brochure also advises filling in any holes children might leave in the sand as well as holes made by beach umbrellas and cabanas, since deep indentations in the sand represent deadly hazards for hatchlings. Recreational vehicles should not be driven in soft sand, and all litter should be removed from the beach to ensure hatchlings reach the sea safely.

Even when all these precautions are observed, hatchling survival rate is pretty low. Only about one hatchling in 1,000-10,000 become mature adults. Some succomb to pitfalls on the beach, others become food for sharks, large fish, or sea birds. Storms are a problem too, since hatchlings emerge in hurricane season and are sometimes washed ashore by storms and stranded. They get sick from polluted waters and generally suffer from loss of habitat as beachfront development often means sand gets pumped in from the sea to improve the beaches and sea wall construction is undertaken to protect adjacent real estate. In fact, beach building projects during nesting seasion can result in burying of sea turtle nests. Life is truly hard...

If all goes well, the hatchlings remain in the coastal waters of the Indian River Lagoon which runs between the mainland and the barrier islands along most of Florida's Atlantic coast. They eat sea grass beds and are protected by the reefs near the shore. Eventually, they swim out to sea. Fifteen to twenty-fived years later, females will return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. While they do not nest every year, females will lay between three to eight clutches of eggs in a nesting season.

I was fascinated to think that only five minutes from the condo we rented, 200-350 pound turtles had hauled themselves out of the sea to lay eggs in the sand. One night I actually went down to the beach at midnight, hoping to see a big turtle. No luck. But after returning home, I decided to contribute to the work of the Volusia and Flagler Turtle Patrol by adopting one of the nests they protect. They will earmark a nest on Cinnamon Beach as "my" nest and will update me when the eggs hatch. Won't that be exciting? I may not have seen a turtle, but perhaps I'll get news about the hatchlings that emerge from the mound of sand above.

© 2008, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement


Marko Traviko said...

I'm there now at Cinnamon Beach. Also at a family gathering. I googled about sea turtles at Palm Coast to find out which species the nests were for and came accross your blog. If your right, they could belong to any one of the three species.

Linda said...

Thanks for your comment Marko. Glad you found my post. So interesting that you too were attending a family gathering in the same area! Isn't it exciting to be so near to the nesting place of these ancient creatures?! Please spread the word about the ways we can help protect their nests to ensure that our children can share the wonder of sea turtles.