VIDEO: First sea turtle hatchlings of season come from Harbor Island nest

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VIDEO: First sea turtle hatchlings of season come from Harbor Island nest

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, July 13, 2012   |  571 Words  |  

Back home in North Canton, Ohio, 10-year-old Jamison Ellis' friends scoff when he tells them he spends his vacations protecting baby sea turtles.

"At first they don't believe me, and then I show them pictures and they think it's pretty cool," Jamison said.

He will have more proof to show after Friday.

Ellis and about 50 volunteers, residents and curious vacationers gathered on Harbor Island's beach to watch as some of the state's first loggerhead hatchlings of the season emerged from their nests.

The nest was reported April 30 by naturalist Fran Nolan, coordinator of the Harbor Island Sea Turtle Project.

Loggerhead nesting in April is rare. The threatened sea turtles typically nest from May to August, coming ashore at night to lay their eggs, according to state and local naturalists.

Nests usually begin to hatch around mid- to late-July, and hatchlings continue to emerge through October.

Jamison and his family have been vacationing on the island for a decade. They've lent Nolan a hand the past six years, fencing off and relocating nests too close to the water.

On Friday, they marveled at the fruits of their labor, as they watched Nolan pull out four 2-inch-long hatchlings from the pit during an inventory to see how many eggs had hatched.

Of the 142 eggs laid, 62 hatched and one hatchling died -- numbers that troubled Nolan.

"Typically, most will come out," Nolan said, adding that females deposit an average of 120 eggs per clutch. About 65 percent will hatch, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

"It's always disappointing not to have a full nest go out," she said.

The group quickly formed two lines on either side of the hatchlings to protect them from predators as they scrambled to the sea.

"To see the circle of life is pretty amazing," said Jim Meletiou of Davidson, N.C. "Many of us staying here were holding out for this opportunity."

Nolan used Friday's hatching to stress that people need to turn off oceanfront lights from dusk to dawn, as required by law on all beaches in Beaufort County.

Hatchlings typically emerge at night. They orient themselves toward the brightest horizon and dash toward the ocean. Artificial lights confuse them, causing them to crawl away from the water.

"If they don't make it to the ocean quickly, many hatchlings will die of dehydration in the sun or be caught by predators," she said.

Shining flashlights or taking flash photographs of turtles at night is also a federal offense.

The hatchlings swim several miles to catch ocean currents. The hatchlings stay in open water for several years before returning to near-shore waters.

Related content

  1. Harbor Island Sea Turtle Project
  2. S.C. Marine Turtle Conservation Program
  3. Town of Hilton Head Island: Loggerhead Sea Turtle Protection
  4. Hilton Head sea turtle nesting off to early, promising start: June 27, 2012