A First (Green) Turtle Hatching for Many
Thursday (28th August) was the much anticipated day when the Green Turtle nest in front of our Deputy Chief Warden’s house finally hatched. April had been keeping a watchful eye on the nest and had noted signs of activity from the chamber below evident on the surface sand.
Many of us volunteers and researchers began to become very excited, since none of us had ever seen any kind of turtle nest hatching. The fact that the nest was a more unusual (on Cousin Island) green turtle nest merely increased our eagerness. The only foreseeable problems were firstly that many of us were visiting a neighboring island for the afternoon and therefore might miss our potential first turtle hatching, and secondly that green turtle hatchlings may emerge at night, when it is both dark and late.
So it was that we happily found, upon arriving back from our afternoon excursion with rather sore bodies from the bumpy boat/choppy sea, that the nest was not yet hatched. However it seemed that the event was imminent, as April had stationed herself in a chair by the nest site and pointed out just one tiny green turtle head poking through the sand.
With bated breath, we too settled down nearby to watch things unfold. For some time, not much happened except an occasional small pulse within the sand. Eventually, each pulse exposed a little more of the mass of baby turtles: a flipper here, another head there. However things were moving rather slowly and it was getting dusky.
Would they hatch soon, while we could watch them, or would they wait for the pitch black of total darkness? It is an advantage for the baby turtles to come out in the dusk or dark when the sand is cool and they are afforded some cover.
All of sudden, it seemed that the sandy depression began to seethe and bubble. What followed was an eruption of tiny little turtles, wriggling and writhing in their efforts to break free of the nest chamber. This they accomplished unbelievably fast and soon they were speeding down the beach to meet the cool embrace of the sea for the first time. It really was amazing to see how quickly they were able to orient themselves and, once they had found the sea, how rapidly they motored down the beach with their little flippers to meet the surf.
In what seemed no time at all, they were gone. All was calm again on the beach except for all of us, who were enthusiastically discussing the marvel we had just witnessed. We saw only 27 hatchlings, leading us to assume that some had either hatched the previous night or would hatch later that night, or perhaps tomorrow. What we actually found the following day after excavating the nest was that the rest of the eggs were unfertilised, along with a lone green turtle which hadn’t made it out with the rest but happily raced to the sea when freed.
This green turtle hatching is something that we volunteers and researchers will never forget and will remain one of my personal favourite memories from my time as volunteer on Cousin Island.
By Sophia Whitlock (conservation volunteer)