If you have ever seen a newly hatched loggerhead turtle about the size of a quarter – crawling toward the sea, you will never forget the sight. It’s like watching a miracle happen.
We Lowcountry South Carolinians have long carried on a "love affair" with these amazing creatures of the sea. We have turtle nest guardians up and down our shores. These guardians walk the beaches each day to see if the loggerhead nests are okay. Turtle watchers also are on highalert at hatching time.
A full grown 300 pound female loggerhead lives in the sea for twenty years. Then, traveling hundreds of miles (if she survives her many battles to the ocean), she returns to the place of her birth to lay her eggs. No one knows for sure why or how she returns to her birthplace.
When she gets into familiar waters, she may take a chance on a moonlit night to crawl onto the beach to lay her eggs. She looks for a dry sandy location to dig her nest.
There can be "false crawls" if the loggerhead digs into the sand and hits a rock or root. She then returns to the ocean without laying her eggs.
Her hind flippers are used to dig a cavity around 20 inches deep. It’s been written that the female turtle sheds "turtle tears" as she lays her eggs, releasing salt water from her body. Females begin to arrive in late May to lay eggs and hatching continues through August.
After laying her ping pong ball sized eggs, she tries to disguise the nest flipping sand with her front flippers. The female then crawls to the sea leaving a familiar tract behind her. She never returns to her nest.
With all kinds of predators on the shore, animals and human, the nest needs protection for 55 to 60 days. That’s when and why turtle guardians of nests are so valuable, especially with the population grown on the Southeast coast.
Did you know that the temperature of the nesting sand determines the sex of a sea turtle? Cool sand produces males and warm sand produces females.
During the heat of the day, hatchling remain quiet. Then, when it cools down and they are ready to be hatched, these little miracles scrape off their flippers and plow through broken shells and dig through the sand to the outside world.
Around the SC coast you will often see a bumper stucker that reads: "Lights Out Sea Turtles Dig the Dark." These signs remind beachfront homeowners to dim their lights during hatching time. Hatchlings seek light for direction to the ocean.
The time of crawling to the sea is the most dangerous time in a hatchlings life. Only one in thousands survive to maturity. If it makes it to the sea, the baby sea turtle swims and swims to reach the Gulf Stream.
In the Gulf Stream they feed and hide in relative safety. No one knows for certain how long a loggerhead turtle lives. Some have guessed as long as 100 years.
The name "Loggerhead" comes from the turtles huge head and large jaws. These mammoth sea turtles have been around since prehistoric times and it’s obvious that they have a very strong sense of survival.
Let’s continue to help them survive.
Remember: "LIGHTS OUT … SEA TURTLES DIG THE DARK."