My first night on duty was the hatchery. What’s the hatchery duty entail you ask? Sit, talk, examine the nests every 20 minutes, look at the stars, sit, stretch, talk - repeat. My shift started at 6pm and went until midnight. The only excitement that could happen on this shift is that hatchlings could emerge from a nest and then you take them to the beach and let them make their way to the ocean. We actually began the evening with a release of turtles that had hatched during the day. It was quite the experience to watch them find their way to the water in the moonlight - a crescent moon with the curve upside down like a smily face. We let them go about 50 yard from the water as they really need to stretch their flippers before hitting the water. There is also the thought that they need to get a feel for the beach as the females always return to the same beach for nesting. Three of them shot out of the gate, I followed another that zig-zagged north until it finally found water. It took a few waves before it was washed out to sea. The last one took quite a bit longer. It wasn’t looking too active in the bucket, and didn’t look much better once placed on the beach. Kim and I walked with it for about 45 minutes, until, finally it touched water. It took on a few waves, was buried in the sand, and then off it went. The likelihood any of these hatchlings will make it is quite slim; maybe one in a thousand, with a 70% mortality rate within the first year alone. Once they make it to adulthood (15 years) they have no natural predators, so it’s just humans getting in the way.
In mid-afternoon, we went south to excavate a nest that had already hatched. They wait two days for this, to make sure that no other hatchlings make their way out naturally. Nathan cleared off the dry sand, creating a bit of a pit (the women and shorter armed folks have to make a bigger pit) and then he digs down and down and down, eventually getting all the way to his armpit. Once he reaches the eggs, he scoops them out for sorting. They get sorted into four categories: whole eggs (about the size of a lacrosse ball), hatched eggs, sags (generally smaller and empty) and fragments and, lastly, the unknown. These are counted and recorded, then the interesting part. We break open the whole eggs to see what’s inside. These are sorted into four categories as well: nothing but the yolk, stage 1 (attachment - an embryo is attached to the side of the egg and nothing more), stage 2 (some development - maybe just eyes), stage 3 (further development - like the one I opened which was quite fully developed, but stopped just short). Opening the egg was interesting. First you pinch the egg to create an opening and then you peel it back to enlarge the opening. Then you pour the contents of the egg onto your gloved hand (salmonella and all) and examine it carefully as it oozes over your gloves. It’s quite disgusting, but fascinating. I got right into the process and was quite mesmerized.