Tuesday, September 11, 2007

One in a Thousand

Several days ago Amy called me from work to report that the National Park Service was planning to release a clutch of newly hatched turtles that evening at 7:10. I passed the information along to David, hoping he could bring Lachlan, but it didn't work out for them.

When I arrived a small crowd of locals had gathered on a fairly remote section of the beach (far from village lights and automobile headlights). A park ranger had a bucket with 47 baby loggerheads. We were given a brief wildlife lesson:
-- a typical female turtle lays about 120 eggs [this nest had 160 eggs];
-- the babies swim all the way to the Sargasso Sea in the Gulf Stream and "hang out" there for a while, then travel all the way across to the other side of the Atlantic;
-- after 20 - 25 years they swim back here and the females return to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.

Then the youngsters were released. This was being done in several sessions, as they hatched. The little guys were set on the sand in groups of four to six. Immediately they struck out for the surf. Lucky ones reached the water with just the right timing and slid under the water effortlessly. Others were tossed and turned and thrown back up on the beach by one wave after another. Some landed on their backs and struggled to right themselves. Finally they too would crawl back and disappear under the churning white water and be gone.

Biologists estimate that only one in a thousand hatchlings survives. At least we kept these few safe from ghost crabs and seagulls. Maybe one or two will make it all the way to the Sargasso Sea, and perhaps my great-grandchildren will one day witness one of these turtles' youngsters hastening back to the great open sea.

This month's newsletter is a story of Captain Joe Burrus, last Ocracoke lighthouse keeper before the beacon was electrified and automated. You can read it here.

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