Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Hatchlings Have Arrived!

Last week 76 young and eager hawksbill turtle hatchlings emerged from their nest on Jabberwock beach (above) and made their first tracks to sea. A regular morning beach goer immediately noticed the unmistakeable signs of tiny flipper marks in the sand and reported his findings to Junior, our leading patrol officer. Junior confirmed the sighting just a few hours later, marking our first hatched nest on that beach for the 2008 nesting season.

The nest had been deposited in mid-June, gestating for just over sixty days. Hawksbills will deposit about five nests or egg clutches in one nesting season, often returning to the same beach each time. Hawksbills are notoriously picky in their choice of nest site often attempting as many as 3 separate nests before deciding on the final site. Prime sites like this one shown below are usually ones that are well protected by beach vegetation yet not inundated with roots.
After the laying process, the turtle will carefully cover and disguise her nest before returning to the ocean. Other than the protection of the nest, the offspring will fend for themselves from this point onward, relying on instinct and a lot of luck to survive. Once the hatchlings have matured inside the nest, they start breaking free of their shell, creating a chain reaction of movement and digging in the nest which pushes them gradually upwards. Should the hatchlings arrive near the surface of the sand in daylight, the heat produces a lifesaving immobilizing effect. If the hatchlings were to burst forth into the open sunlight, they would risk intense dehydrating heat and daytime predators. Once the day cools down the turtles recover from the spell and continue their upward journey (image below taken from
Our first Jabberwock nest would have broken the surface sometime between sunset and sunrise on the night of August 3rd, 2008. Junior and Andrea were able to find out more about the nest by analysing the eggshell remains. We know that 76 hatchlings made it out alone and our team also released two more lucky hatchlings, who hadn’t made it out of the nest on their own. Sadly, it is normal that all hatchlings simply don’t make it to the surface. We found seven dead, some still in their shells and one that was missing a right flipper. Sad as this may be, the odds weren’t bad for this nest, at the end of the day we had 78 new hatchlings swimming the seas!