Loggerhead turtles survive against all odds

Published 11:48 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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The Carolinas have a diverse array of ancient species that call our area home. From tiny brook trout that have made the mountains home for far longer than humans have inhabited the area, to horseshoe crabs that look like an outer space transplant, there is incredible wildlife around if you take the time to look. This week my family was able to see the start of another ancient species’ life, the loggerhead turtle. 

In my opinion, it’s amazing that loggerhead turtles aren’t extinct. In the modern world, I see very few advantages to being a turtle. 

First of all, loggerhead parents are about as helpful as snow skis in Death Valley. After the eggs are laid, the mom disappears. The dad, well, he has no clue eggs were even laid.     

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After around eighty days the eggs hatch. That is unless any sort of critter finds the eggs buried in the sand and has a buffet.        

If the eggs hatch, the cute turtles escape from their sand enclosure and make a mad dash to the ocean. Simple enough right? Wrong. 

The turtles are guided to the ocean by the moon. You may have seen signage along the coast with slogans like “Lights out on the beach!” You may think this isn’t important, but I witnessed firsthand these baby turtles getting confused.        

The beautiful full moon lit up their path to the ocean Sunday night. The turtles wriggled their way toward the ocean until a cloud covered the moon. Immediately the turtles slowed and started to turn to the nearest light source. Most houses on the beach followed the rules.        

The ones that kept lights on made the little guys question their way. With the moon covered by the clouds, they would turn to head back up the beach towards the beach house lights.         

There are stories of beach house owners finding hundreds of dead baby turtles under their floodlights in the morning after a hatch.          

If the baby turtles get to the ocean surviving absent parents, nest-robbing critters and humans that won’t turn off their lights, their journey isn’t over. They must swim three to six miles in the oceans, finding seagrass to live in until they are big enough to avoid predators in the ocean.         

Each hatchling has a one in a thousand chance of surviving into adulthood. That is about the same chances as cracking an egg with a double yolk. It was highly likely that the hundred hatchlings that made their way down the beach Sunday night wouldn’t make it.          

That fact put in perspective how amazing it was that we were still witnessing a hatch. Many female turtles will avoid populated beaches to nest. With a decrease in habitat, absent parenting, scavengers, light pollution and swimming through the open ocean stacking the odds against them, they still survive.         

Watching my family realize the gift of seeing loggerheads hatch warmed my heart. Learning to appreciate the gift of nature in the Carolinas will help ground them in this beautiful region we call home.