Aug 12 2012

Beautiful Moments: A Glimpse at a Turtle Hatchling

There’s something I’ve always feared about living on Edisto.

Sometimes I think what will happen if I wake up and the island is no longer my favorite place on Earth. After all, living here is a lot different from vacationing here.

Vacationing here means days are spent in the water or on the water, eating any variety of locally grown or caught food, having some drinks on the porch, and taking advantage of doing nothing.

Living here means you have to ditch the bathing suits for real clothes (most of the time), you have to spend more time working than playing (most of the time), and you have to drive by the beach and the marshes so often that there’s a real risk that one day those sights just won’t be amazing anymore.

But something happened just the other night that made me realize I could never take this place for granted.

I went down to the beach on a whim around midnight just to see if any of the turtles from the six nests on the portion of the beach I live near were ready to go. It was low tide and the light rain falling made for a misty night. I approached one of the nests that had been prepped for the hatchlings (the turtle people here on Edisto put a tarp-like barrier around the nest that extends 10 feet or so down the beach to guide the young hatchlings to the water) and looked to see if any turtles were emerging. That’s when I looked directly in the eyes of one tiny little Loggerhead.

The hatchling stuck its head out of the nest and quickly crawled out of his first home. After running into the tarp around the nest, the hatchling started crawling toward the ocean. Keep in mind that the little turtle was smaller than the palm of an adult hand and it was low tide, so the journey from the nest to the water had to be exhausting, but it soldiered on.

At one point the turtle started going off track and was heading away from the water, but then thanks to my cell phone lighting up due to an unexpected phone call, the turtle looked at the light of my phone and seemed to remember it needed to get in the water and headed in the right direction.

After about 20 minutes of watching the little critter crawl toward the water it finally made it. Watching a little hatchling go into the water is almost agonizing. They are so light that the surf swirls them around, throws them back up on the beach, sucks them out, and repeats the process until eventually they become one with the water.

The little guy I was watching got thrown around just a little, then a wave came that picked him up and took him away.

I read online that approximately 1 in 1000 hatchlings make it to adulthood. Nobody really knows what the turtles do when they enter the water and begin to grow up in the ocean. What is known is that they have to swim out very far past the breakers into what I like to call the deep part of the ocean. The first 10 years of their lives are said to be the most dangerous because they are preyed upon by larger marine animals.

Once the sea turtles reach adulthood, they live out the rest of their lives in the shallow waters along the coast. It’s common to see sea turtles poke their heads up out of the water all throughout the warm summer months.

The most interesting thing about turtles is that it is said they return to the place where they were hatched to nest once they reach sexual maturity. It’s amazing to think that the turtles that nest on Edisto Beach – some of which are more than 300 pounds – were once the size of the tiny hatchling I saw just the other night.

Witnessing the hatchling crawl out of its nest and begin its life in the ocean, made me realize for the millionth time how lucky I am to live here. After all, how many people in the world can walk down to the beach at night and witness nature at its finest?

I think it’s safe to say that I can stop worrying that someday I will wake up and fall out of love with Edisto.

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Edisto Wildlife

Bob Hart Author

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