Mother nature knows best, and in her infinite wisdom a balance of life and death has been created on our planet. Unfortunately due to human kind breaking out of it’s mold and conquering just about every corner of our earth, whether its physical presence in the harshest desert landscapes, drilling for oil deep beneath the ocean or separating ourselves from nature with impressive buildings and creations. Our success has come at a steep price for many species on this earth, and we are currently living through the Holocene mass extinction. The next mass extinction since Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, where no tetrapods larger than 25 kg except the leatherback turtle and crocodile survived.
The IUCN (International Union Conservation of Nature) monitors the population levels, health, distribution and projection of animals and decides to award them one of the 7 labels. Ranging from least concern to extinct. Sea turtles, who are sleek and elegant however have been hunted for their flesh and eggs by several cultures worldwide, are all on the endangered species list. There are 7 species of turtle, and none of them have escaped the effects of human expansion. That is why, whenever we see an injured, trapped or struggling turtle, it is our responsibility to help.
You have certainly seen the turtle having a plastic straw pulled out of it’s nose, a group of English travellers rescuing Terry from plastic entanglement and the thousands of images of turtles trapped in trash, red algae or cut up by motors.
The entire lifecycle must be protected, and that is what today’s post is about. The relocation of a turtle nest. Check out the video here.
Why Relocate a Nest?
Mother nature knows best, however Mama turtles aren’t always the best informed about the safest location to lay their precious eggs. Some information about the topic I got from here, along with contacting friends who have worked with turtles.
Rapid human expansion meant that across the world certain nests have to be moved out of the way where many beach goers go to sunbathe, drive their car or even have airplanes land.
Studies have shown, that if a turtles eggs are submerged under water for as little as 6 hours, their chance of hatching decreases by 30%. Just dunking the eggs into salt water decreased their hatching by 10%. So turtle nests laid down at the tide line (whether this is from an inexperienced mother, a tired mother, or one who simply just wants to dump her eggs as she has been disturbed so many times) are in danger of drowning.
The last reason is, due to sea turtles spending majority of their life in the open ocean, it’s extremely difficult to gather accurate data on population growth or decline. This is why scientists use the number of nests, eggs and successful hatchling emergences as a guide line. Digging up a nest, counting the eggs and relocating it to a safer location while noting down all information about the eggs.
Precautions before relocating a nest.
Relocating a nest should never be attempted without the presence of official wildlife workers in your area. If you live near a turtle nesting beach, you will have an organisation who ensures the safety of these turtles, so ALWAYS your first line of action is to contact them.
Australia : Australian Wildlife Society
Sick or injured turtle, call the EPA hotline from Save Our Sea Turtles on 1300 ANIMAL.
Florida : Sick or injured turtle Gumbo Limbo Nature center. If you find a dead, sick, or injured sea turtle, please call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or dial *FWC on your mobile phone.
Assess whether it is crucial to move the nest
Now this is taking into considerations the reasons stated above. Any tampering with eggs can decrease their chance of survival, unless they are in greater danger from the tide or humans.
Protective Barriers and Equipment
Always use protective gloves and appropriate equipment for relocating turtle nests. Gloves to ensure no diseases are passed from yourself to the eggs, a bucket or similar with sand to transport the eggs, a measuring tape to properly calculate the depth of the original nest.
Measure the original nest
Every species of turtle has specific specifications for their nest, and when recreating a new whole, individuals must be careful to dig a hole replicating the original nest.
Green turtle’s typically dig a 70cm hole, with a 40cm small oval shaped hole located at the center of it, into which they drop between 100-120 eggs.
If you are unsure what species it is, check out this handy identification sheet.
If you cannot find the specifications online, simply measure the nest as you are carefully digging it up.
Minimal movement of the eggs
To not interphere with the eggs development. DO NOT shake, spin, roll, rotate the eggs while picking them up. The turtle eggs have a membrane that the developing embryo attaches to the egg wall during growth. If the egg spins, it can detach from the wall and prevent the embryo from developing.
And ensure to keep the order in which they are taken out, and then put back into the nest to not interfere with the rates of development.
Tip : When picking up the egg, your body should move around the hand, so the hand stays as stable as possible. Picture the egg is the sun and your body is the solar system orbiting it.
Thanks to Mackenzie Logan for the additional information.
Move the eggs as soon as possible
Due to the above reasons of the embryos attaching to walls and developing, the ideal time for moving the eggs with the minimal amount of danger is the first 2 hours after laying. Here they are still fresh and haven’t settled into their new home.
Keep a marker on the nest site
If you know there are potential predators in the area : particularly cats and dogs, it is a good idea to put up a fence and monitor the nest site for any movement. After around 60 days you will see movement in the sand from the hatchlings breaking out of their shells. Feel free to read all about turtle hatchlings emergence here.
When the turtle hatchling’s emergence day is near, ensure that there is no other light sources on the beach. If this beach is near commercial buildings such as hotels, ask them to turn off or shield the beach facing lights, and consider approaching residential neighbors as well. Hatchlings typically emerge just after sunset, or just before dawn and use their visual senses to run towards the lightest place. (typically, this is the crashing white of the waves)
*warning* If you do want to document the emergence, get a few photos or videos, only use RED light for short periods of time. Also, always stand towards the beach from the turtles, so incase they do get confused with the red light, they at least run in the correct direction.
Their life, after this first run to the ocean, has greately remained a mystery.
So there you have it, a guide on how to relocate a turtle nest if the mama has chosen a dangerous location. I reiterate, I am not a professional, however have done a lot of research and gotten consultations from dear friends who worked in turtle sanctuaries : Thank you Sarah Ghys and Amelie Krug for your calm replies during this relocation. It is always better to contact local authorities, however information is always better shared.
If you have any questions, or comments, or suggestions on how to improve this guide. Please feel free to message me!