There are four of us on the team–Terry, Margi, Pam and I– and every Tuesday and Saturday we’re on the beach shortly after 6:00 AM, looking for tracks that tell us that a female loggerhead has been on the beach during the night, dug a hole with her back flippers and laid about 100 eggs. And by this time of year, we’re also watching for hundreds of tiny tracks because the hatchlings are beginning to crawl up to the surface and make their mad dash to the Gulf before a crab or other predator can snatch them up for breakfast. And because they are ladies of the night (and kids of the night) we rarely see the little guys and even more rare is a “mama sighting”. Mostly we only see tracks.
So last night we met at 3:00 AM to walk the beach hoping to see one of those ladies nest and lay her eggs. We met at Margi’s brother’s (he has a house on the beach) and walked and walked and walked (about six miles when all was said and done) We were loaded with bug spray…I had done this once before and got eaten alive. And we DID see three female loggerheads. We didn’t get to see one laying her eggs. One was finished and on her way back to the Gulf when we found her; one was swimming right off the beach and seemed to change her mind before she left the water. She turned around and headed back for deeper waters. And one made it all the way up to the dunes and then turned around and headed back without making a nest. I hope we didn’t scare her away. We stayed far away, waiting for her to “get in the zone” laying eggs. No such luck.
We walked, we sat on the steps leading out to the beach just staring out at the moonlight on the water and around 6:00 had breakfast on Margi’s brother’s lanai and headed out for our regular turtle patrol. That’s when we spotted a dolphin swimming so close to shore I swear we could have waded out and touched him.
There were lots of nests on our zone last night…seven, I think…Probably laid before we arrived at 3:00. Next year maybe we’ll start earlier although we’re talking about a road trip next year to the east coast where the leatherbacks come ashore by the hundreds to lay their eggs.
There is something magical, something holy about witnessing this ancient ritual (sea turtles were around at the time of the dinosaurs) that goes on every summer without fail. I’m just glad I was there this morning and glad I have friends who want to be there too.
Below are two pictures. One is a turtle nesting. She’s already laid her eggs and is working up the energy to head back to the water. In the next one, she’s dragging her 250 pound body back to the sea. Both of these were taken a couple years ago when we came upon her early in the morning…one of the rare occasions when a turtle was still on the beach after sunrise.