While walking on the beach this morning, you saw the very back of a sea turtle as she headed into the water. She left a trail behind her in the sand.
You look around to tell somebody, but there’s nobody around! Just up ahead, however you see a sign with a big turtle picture.
Every state that has a beach where turtles might nest has an organization to protect sea turtles. Luckily, you have your phone with you! When you call the number listed on the sign, the Turtle Patrol answers right away. They ask you to be very careful not to disturb the tracks, because they can be used to identify the type of sea turtle that came ashore. A volunteer is already on the beach and headed your way.
There are 7 species of sea turtles in the world, but only 5 species nest in the United States. The 3 most common nests in the United States are laid by loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles, but there are also hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that nest here. All species of sea turtle are protected in the United States.
Can you identify the type of sea turtle you saw from the tracks she left in the sand before the Turtle Patrol comes?
The Turtle Patrol has arrived! They take a look at the tracks and get very excited. After exploring the tracks, the Turtle Patrol explains that healthy sea turtles usually only come up on land to lay eggs. Sometimes, though, a lady turtle might decide at the last minute not to lay eggs and will turn around and head back to the ocean. The set of tracks she leaves when she leaves without digging a nest is called a false crawl. To see if this is a nest or a false crawl, the scientists from the Turtle Patrol dig very carefully to see if they can locate any eggs.
It’s a nest! All the eggs inside a nest are called a clutch. The Turtle Patrol begins to protect the nest by putting stakes and caution tape around it to keep people from accidentally driving over or digging into the nest. When they are done, they post a special sign to let people know why this spot is being protected.
This clutch of eggs should hatch in about 45-55 days. Can you figure out the earliest date these are likely to hatch if they were laid this morning?
When the time is right, the baby turtles will begin to break through their eggshells. They have to climb up and over each other through the sand. When the hatchlings reach the surface, they use the light of the moon and stars shining on the ocean to know where to find the water. Unfortunately, they can get confused if there are man-made lights near the beach, so the Turtle Patrol checks the nests every night during nesting season to help rescue any hatchlings that get lost on the way to the sea.
Thanks to you, this turtle nest has a great chance to hatch successfully! The Turtle Patrol tells you that there will be a nest excavation tomorrow evening. A few days ago, a different nest hatched nearby and the Turtle Patrol will be carefully digging up the nest. They will count all the eggs in the clutch and record the information. Data from nest hatchings all over the United States is collected and studied to help scientists understand how many sea turtles are being born. Sometimes they also find hatchlings that need a bit of extra help and can take them to a vet, if necessary.
Before the Turtle Patrol leaves, they give you a special thank you gift – a Tiny Turtle Nest to learn more about sea turtles! You can discover for yourself what it’s like to excavate a sea turtle nest to help scientists collect information on sea turtle nesting.
Don’t forget to to fill out the Tiny Turtle Nest Excavation Form to share what you discover!