The Gulf Coast along Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas is the birthing grounds for four of the world’s species of sea turtles. Historically mother turtles arrive along Pensacola’s barrier islands from late May through end of August. Loggerheads, the largest of the species, leave tracks that look like tread marks left by industrial sized tires. These heavy mom’s are sensitive to light and the slightest elevation in the land. Turtle moms crawl under moonlight up the dunes, dig a well with their back legs, and then deposit up to 100 round, pearly eggs, covering it over as they return to the sea. The egg encased young mature in the warmth of the sand, hatching about 7-8 weeks later with the task of removing the sand, clawing their way to the top and onto the beach where they instinctively are drawn to flickering moonlight on the wavelets. Along the frantic rush to the water’s edge and relative safety in the sea, birds, crabs, raccoons, and other predators may have them for dinner or breakfast. This form of reproduction depends on broadcasting large numbers of progeny to counter the low odds for survival.
Volunteers with the National Park Service help increase the odds of survival by guarding the nests until hatching, then help infants make it to the sea. See Barrier Island Girl blog for more information and wonderful photography by D.J. a Pensacolian involved in Turtle Conservation through the Gulf Islands National Seashore and her active participation in local culture and family events and natural rhythms.
See Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song on this blog for more natural history information and conservation issues.
Photo from Defenders of Wildlife Website, National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration. Go here for an excellent summary of the critical conservation issues for loggerhead turtles and Florida coastline development.