Posted by admin | 01.16.2013 | Sea Turtle Camp News
From Egg to Ocean
With labored breath and tremendous effort a mother sea turtle drags her egg-laden body from the sea. She hauls her heavy mass clumsily across the sand on flippers, having long ago evolved for a life at sea. Each movement a struggle, she searches for the perfect place to lay her precious cargo of eggs. As a first time mother, she hasn’t visited this particular beach in decades. Yet that brief moment, so many years ago, when she herself scrambled down a dune to the waters edges was enough to engrain the location in her for a lifetime.
She has come far, swam tirelessly to reach this place so she can complete the one task nature drives her to carry out. Pearly salty tears drip from her eyes, excreting all the excess salt her body absorbs at sea; that many people mistake this natural process for crying. Finally, she settles on a secluded stretch of beach right along the dunes edge. She scoots away the top layer of sand and debris creating a shallow body pit. Using her back flippers she digs a cylindrical chamber 16-20 inches deep. Its smooth walls and precise measurements exhibit seemingly impossible finesse and dexterity for a creature her size.
Her clutch of roughly 100 ping pong ball-sized leathery eggs fall into the nest cavity and then very carefully she buries them under a protective layer of sand. The sand keeps the eggs moist and hopefully will deter predators. She camouflages the nest with surrounding debris before beginning the wearisome trek back to the waves; the entire process takes only a few hours. She will never see her little ones hatch, in fact she will most likely never see them again; orphaned they must undertake the world completely alone.
Buried beneath the burning sand, the eggs rest quietly in the dark, and all seem calms. Yet inside each egg a frenzy of activity occurs as the embryos develop. Perfect miniature replicas of their parents take form inside the papery shells. If temperatures remain above 85 degrees then females with dominate the clutch, whereas temperatures below that will produce mostly males. Incubation takes an average of 60 days and the embryo is nourished by the eggs yolk sac. When the hatchlings are fully developed they use the caruncle, a special egg tooth, to rip open the soft egg encasing them.When the hatchlings are fully developed they use the caruncle, a special egg tooth, to rip open the soft egg encasing them.
The hatchlings begin to wriggle around. As they struggle upward a depression forms at the surface caused by the whirlwind of moment below. It can take many days of teamwork to dig themselves out from the pit, working together they pass sand from the top of the nest to the bottom as the group tunnels toward the surface.
The hatchlings will wait just below the top layer of sand until conditions are perfect, then they’ll bubble up from below breaking through the sand ceiling and opening their tiny eyes for the first time. Orienting themselves using the ocean horizon they scurry to the wave breaks, hopefully avoiding the many predators waiting to pick them off for a tasty snack.
Once they reach the sea a swimming frenzy ensues. Guided by their internal compass they navigate the open ocean in search of the Sargasso Sea algae beds. Equipped with only enough food to survive about 4 days, their destination is a grueling 30 miles offshore and fraught with predators. Therefore it should come as no surprise that only about 1 in 1,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood.