Nest 18 Update
by Jackie Orsulak
We have had a long cold wait on Nest #18. Normal incubation for a sea turtle nest is 55 to 80 days. Because this nest was laid late in the season when the weather was beginning to cool, we knew it would take longer to incubate.
So, we did not start nest sitting until Day 65. We faithfully spent each night watching for the changes in the sand that would indicate some turtle hatching. We also saw resident ghost crabs that came and went. After two days with no ghost crabs, we saw a small funnel that looked like the beginnings of a sinkhole. It was not quite in the center of the nest where we knew the eggs were, but we watched it intently anyway.
At about 11:00 one night the sand started to move like it does when the turtles are rising in the nest. It moved like that, off and on, for a half hour; we thought we were finally being rewarded for our persistence. Just when all of our helpers who had gone home came back, a big crab claw emerged from the hole. That was the very first time we have been fooled by a crab. We were disappointed, to say the least.
But, Mother Nature has rewarded us with our patience in other ways. On Day 74, at about 9:30PM, we saw bright white rays over the ocean. They were the beginning of an aurora borealis (also known as “northern lights”) show. The rays changed shape and moved west as the sky began to glow red. The red glow drifted west, then east, and then the sky was back to its regular starry night. The whole event lasted about 15 minutes but was very awe-inspiring.
We were also treated to meteor showers from the constellation Orion. Another natural form of entertainment for us was the noctiluca in the sand. Noctiluca is a plant form that lights up when it is disturbed. It is not always here on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and it is rarely as abundant as we have seen near this nest. The waves in the ocean were brilliantly white from the glow, and the wet sand lit up like it was full of glitter when someone stepped on it. It was like magical fairy dust. This truly is a magical place where we are constantly delighted by Mother Nature.
Wildlife specialist Karen Clark, our boss and guru, is going to Hawaii to visit friends and try to tag some green sea turtles. Before she left, she came to the nest to help us open it to determine its status; this was important to know because it was reaching the maximum incubation time of 80 days. We found one egg that was already opened, probably by the ghost crab that had been digging for days in the nest. The other eggs were beautiful, white and full. It was evident that there were developing turtles in the eggs, and that there was still a chance that this nest would hatch. We quickly covered up the nest and resumed nest sitting. Hopefully within the week we will have hatching little loggerheads. It will be a special treat if this nest that survived Hurricane Irene and was laid so late in the season is successful.
About the author:
Jackie Orsulak is a volunteer for NEST (Network for
Endangered Sea Turtles).
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