The Beacon

Nesting Nights: The Real Thing

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting. The most recent post was about beach erosion.

As promised, I have more to report on our expedition to Bald Head Island, NC. After 3 nights on the island, Kerri Lynn and I had seen a female loggerhead's false crawl and the end of a female nesting.

With only one night remaining, we were really hoping to see the whole nesting process. We got our chance on the fourth night at 2 a.m. When we got to the beach it was starting to rain, and there was no moon in sight.

The interns told us that they had seen five sets of tracks -- all false crawls -- two of which they think were this female, since the tracks appeared similar. The turtle was at work digging her egg chamber, but we stayed at a distance to make sure we didn’t scare her off.

We stayed quiet and still, waiting for her to go into the nesting “trance” to get closer. We all turned our flashlights off, and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could see glints of bioluminescent algae on her shell.

As soon as she started dropping eggs into the chamber, the interns gave us the go-ahead to get closer. They got busy measuring her shell and checking her for tagging IDs while we watched the eggs drop into the sandy pit she’d neatly dug. There was a noticeable chunk taken out of the back of her shell. The interns guessed that a predator had taken a bite when she was a juvenile. Then it was time to disguise the nest – my favorite part. Seeming to swim in the sand, she flapped her flippers this way and that, and shimmied on her belly until the nest was completely covered up. Little did she know, the interns were about to dig up her nest anyway because it was dangerously close to the high tide line.

As soon as she finished her long crawl back to the water on the low-tide beach, two interns got to work uncovering the eggs to relocate them. They were meticulous, counting the eggs, all 109 of them, and placing them into a cooler in an orderly fashion. They even relocated some of the sand from the bottom of the egg chamber.

After measuring the chamber’s dimensions, they set about reconstructing it exactly the same way several yards back. It was clear they were trying their hardest to give these eggs a fighting chance. By 4 a.m., we were sleepy and satisfied.

We had witnessed one of the Earth’s most ancient creatures fulfilling a beautiful, primordial ritual, and it was finally time for bed.

Check out more sea turtle nesting photos on Flickr.


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