Sea Turtle Nest Hatching

Sea turtles live in the ocean, but lay their eggs on land. After mating just offshore, a female sea turtle will crawl up the sand on the very same beach where she was once born (or very close to it) to lay her eggs.

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Sea turtle conservation is one of my many jobs as a Peace Corps Volunteer. If we discover a newly laid nest in an unsafe location (perhaps it is located below the high tide line and will be submerged or perhaps wild dogs are likely to dig up and consume the nest) we transfer the nest to our protected sea turtle hatchery.

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Sea turtle hatchery in Binocot Beach, Ferrol, Romblon, Philippines. This fencing can protect the turtle eggs from excavation by dogs.

A nest is dug within this enclosure to the same dimensions as the original nest. Eggs are transferred with care to ensure that vertical orientation is preserved (within the first 10 hours of being laid a sea turtle embryo attaches to the roof of the egg, if this attachment is broken during transfer the turtle will not develop and then entire nest could end in mortality…thus immediate transfer and proper orientation are key!)

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We have 3 nests still currently waiting to hatch.

After about 60 days the eggs hatch. Last week we greeted 44 hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings!

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This turtle eats plankton and small invertebrates as a baby, but loves to eat sponges, crabs, and shrimp as an adult.
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44 live hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings in transit from our hatchery enclosure to the open beach where they would crawl to the ocean

After hatching sea turtles use visual stimuli to orient themselves to the ocean and crawl into the sea. Turn off bright beach lights!! Otherwise these baby turtles may mistakenly crawl to the road instead of the naturally brightest horizon of the ocean reflecting moonlight and the glimmer of stars.

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Some were resting and we waited about 4 hours until all had walked to the ocean. Usually they left in groups of 4 or 5. The movement on one turtle seemed to trigger its neighbors to also start moving. I snapped this photo just before sunset. After this point it was too dark to see the turtles clearly. 

Once in the ocean, these baby turtles will swim against the surf for about 15mins. As they get far from shore, turtles use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate their journey to the open sea, where they will live in floating beds of seaweed until they grow large and make the journey back to the beach where they were born.

Our care of this sea turtle nest had strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, only 44 eggs of a nest of over 100 eggs hatched. This low hatch rate is likely due to damage during the nest transfer process. Therefore do NOT move a sea turtle nest unless absolutely essential (in the US this is illegal without special permits and training). Secondly, the release of these hatchlings was delayed allowing many visitors and personal handling. In the future, I hope that hatchlings can be released as soon as possible with minimum human interference.

Our strengths include smooth sand, raked free from holes or obstruction. Also we camped out at the beach that night to ensure that no dogs stole off with baby turtles and we confirmed that all 44 hatchlings had successfully swam away by daybreak.

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A red light was used when checking on the sea turtles at night, because sea turtles are least attracted to the red wavelength. We tried to minimize human distractions of bright lights or camera flashes.
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