Searching for Nest 15
by Jackie Orsulak
Nest # 15 is our first unsuccessful nest of the season. After Hurricane Irene hit our area hard, we knew hatching would be a long shot—the nest markers were washed away, water pooled over the nest during the hurricane, and the nest was washed over by the surf many times during the period when the nest was supposed to hatch.
Since we never saw any signs of hatching at the nest, we decided to dig the nest up on Day 70. We knew that the storms had piled lots of sand on the nest which meant that, if the turtles had hatched, they would have had to dig a long way through very wet packed sand. We began carefully digging the center area of the marked-off nest area. After digging about 15 inches deep, we came across a three-inch layer of coarse sand (see the "coarse sand" labeled in the photo in the right-hand Media Gallery). We believe this was probably the level of the sand when the nest was laid. The little hatchlings would have had an additional 15 inches of sand to dig through to reach the top.
We dug about three feet deeper—and in a three foot-wide circle from the center of the marked off area—and found nothing. We then dug about 20 inches below the coarse sand within the entire perimeter of the nest area, which measured eight feet square. We again found nothing.
After three hours of digging in the rain, the exhausted crew gave up and replaced all of the sand. Obviously our method of remarking a nest with two stakes in the dune and a measuring tape was not accurate. We definitely needed a more scientific method.
Of course we all were extremely disappointed in the outcome, but we will use our experience to improve our techniques. With each nest and each disappointment comes knowledge and experience.
We still have four nests to go. Nest #17 is the nest that most likely survived the storms. Its stakes were not washed out, and it has had minimal surf washover. Nest #18 also retained its stakes and had minimal washover, but it was laid late in the season. Nest #16 is in a situation very similar to Nest #15. Nest #19 was laid after the hurricane, which was very late in the nesting season. Since this is the farthest north that loggerheads lay, there probably will not be enough warm days for the eggs to fully develop in the nests. Only time will tell. Patience is the most important virtue of a turtle volunteer. We just wait and hope, wait some more—and swat mosquitoes!
About the author:
Jackie Orsulak is a volunteer for NEST (Network for
Endangered Sea Turtles).
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