A Bumper Season for Turtles - PART 2

[continued from part 1]

Turtle Profile:
Name: Sunny
Species: Loggerhead Turtle
Scientific Name: Caretta Caretta
ID: K22000

One particular turtle that stood out this year was a Loggerhead turtle aptly named ‘Sunny’. K22000 or Sunny was a Loggerhead that decided that day time was the best time to head up on the beach and nest. As turtles are very easily disturbed by light, movement and noise Sunny seemed to defy all the rules and continue to nest even when there was bird’s harassing the poor old girl. True to Sunny fashion, New Year’s rolled around and she decided she wanted to join the party and came right up near the beachfront cafe to nest laying her precious cargo into the sands of Lady Elliot Island.

After all this mating and nesting action the turtle season takes a slight turn with tiny little hatchling’s emerging from their nests and running down the beach. After eight to twelve weeks (typically eight on Lady Elliot) of development within the egg, the hatchlings will start to emerge. Hatchlings emerge from their egg with the aid of an egg tooth and the tip of the turtle hatchling’s upper jaw, the hatchlings will continue to move around the nest encouraging the other hatchling’s to emerge from their eggs through vibration. The hatchlings will then emerge from the nest in an elevation like action, as a pyramid is formed with the hatchling’s digging through the sand until they reach the surface. The hatchlings know they have reached this point as the sand will start to fall back at a much quicker rate.

So how do they survive once they are out of their egg?

The hatchlings rely on a yolk sac that gives them the energy they need as they dig up and will breathe through the tiny air pockets between the sand grains. Unfortunately the journey for the turtle hatchlings is not over yet as they will not emerge from the nest until night falls; the hatchlings rely heavily on temperature as a cue with the day time a very dangerous time with seagulls and other birds always on a lookout for a bite size meal. The hatchlings will wait for night to fall and typically emerge from the nest around one hour after sunset using the moon as a director to the ocean. The horizon is the highest point and gives a good indication for where the hatchling should head, this is why lights can affect the turtles in such a large way with a rogue light possibly sending a turtle in the wrong direction.

The hatchlings certainly kept us busy this year with hatchlings emerging every night from around the island and many coming up to nest at the same time as the hatchlings went down not even 100m away. I must say that the turtles made for an amazing summer on Lady Elliot Island with adventure every time a turtle is spotted!