I awoke this morning to see the turtle patrol at work just down beach from me. At some point over night an endangered green sea turtle had come onto the beach and into the dunes to lay a clutch of eggs.
A Human Problem
The sea turtle patrol is an effort of the National Park Service and volunteers from the Texas Sea Life Center. They patrol Padre Island’s beaches. Other groups patrol other sections of Texas beach. In all cases, the find and mark nests. In the case of Padre Island, the turtle patrol team removes the eggs to be incubate and hatch in a artificial environment.
Wonder why this effort is required? All sea turtle nest on beaches. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are no beaches left in a natural state. Beaches are thought of a play grounds for humans. In the case of Padre Island, the beach is a literal highway (with speed limits, speeding tickets, etc) with hundreds of cars driving up and down it at all hours of the day and night. Beach goers are largely oblivious to turtle nest. Their dogs and children run about in and around the dunes. Humans destroy many nests by accident.
The near universal loss of nesting habitat has endangered most sea turtles, some such as the Kemp’s Ridely Sea Turtle, critically. Their survival strategy (laying large clutches of eggs) is good enough to win versus the natural hazards (such as birds eating the the hatchlings, coyotes and raccoons digging up the eggs, etc). This strategy worked well for hundreds of millions of years. A few beach going humans and our desire to turn every natural environment into a theme park or horrible condominiums defeats it though.
Hatching and Released
The biologist sequesters the eggs in an ice chest packed with sand from near the nest. Each ice chest has an thermocouple embedded to monitor the temperature in the center of the artificial nest. The NPS biologist moves up to 40 eggs into each ice chest. The green sea turtle lays large nests with between 80 and 120 eggs. This nest had around 90 in it split between 3 ice chests.
Once emptied, the turtle patrol marks the nest to prevent wasted time from re-reporting. They strap the ice chests into a vehicle and drive them to the incubation facility.
After incubation and hatching, the turtle patrol releases the baby turtles on the beach in a safe manner. Volunteers protect them from many of the normal hazards (birds, etc) while on the beech helping as many as possible reach the ocean. See the Padre Island Sea Turtle Facebook page for information on release date and times.