Flying Fish

A Hug from the Universe
by Nicole Carlozo -- August 5th, 2011

Just when August became too fast-paced for my liking, I stumbled across a miraculous display of life. It’s form? Newly hatched loggerhead sea turtles.

My 11 week internship with TNC is nearing its end and, unfortunately, my work load has just begun to escalate. Upon arriving at TNC in May, I was tasked with conducting an oyster habitat suitability analysis for the Coastal Climate Adaptation Project. With government data trickling in at painstakingly slow speeds, however, I’ve only just begun to piece together my analysis. Alas, my internship instilled in me the value of patience – and lots of it! But also the importance of forward-thinking.

That being said, work has been hectic on top of many other end-of-summer stresses, including securing housing in Beaufort, preparing for the EMECS conference, finalizing the remainder of my summer plans, and readying myself for the coming school year.

After a slow summer on the beach, life decided to deal out a little too much for my liking. In response to the hectic August days, I decided to take a step back, slow life down, and enjoy my last 2 weeks at the Outer Banks as much as possible.

It was Tuesday afternoon when I decided to drag myself from the TNC intern house, leaving behind worries about the upcoming move to Beaufort. I hadn’t visited the beach in over a week due to work and a trip to Baltimore, but something tugged inside me and I followed my whims. With thoughts of my still unfinished project milling around in my head, I headed for the ocean.

Sunset is the best time to walk along the beach because of the gorgeous skies, shimmering blue water, and curious ghost crabs just emerging from their daytime burrows. The water was surprisingly warm on Tuesday, with schools of anchovies and menhaden washing ashore in hoards. I wondered if the Gulf Stream current had shifted as I stepped around the stranded fish.

An hour later, as I made my way back to my car, I noticed a group of people further up the beach. Upon investigating, I found that a sunken hole had appeared where NEST volunteers were monitoring a sea turtle nesting site. My roommate and fellow CEM Dani, who volunteers for NEST, bounded over to me in excitement. The “cave in” at the nesting site indicated movement beneath the sand. About 30 minutes later, just after dark, the hatchlings appeared.

Setting up for the nest hatching

Setting up for the nest hatching

I’ve never witnessed a sea turtle hatching, and this particular site left onlookers in awe. A boil of turtles emerged all at once, bee-lining for the ocean with the help of smooth sand and some barriers set up by NEST volunteers. Because light disrupts the hatchlings’ sense of direction, no flash photography or regular flashlights were allowed. In the warm glow of the volunteers’ red light headlamps, we watched the turtles sweep across the beach and into the waiting ocean. The crashing waves proved to be no obstacle at all as the turtles scuttled across the wet sand towards the light of the ocean.

Example of a sea turtle boil, photo courtesy of NEST

Example of a sea turtle boil, photo courtesy of NEST

Volunteers counted about 90 hatchlings, although 117 ping-pong sized eggs were counted by onlookers in June when the eggs were laid. As the crowds left, I waited around to see if the other hatchlings would emerge to follow their brethren. The stars shone brightly down as I lounged in the sand, wondering if this is what it felt like to receive a hug from the universe.

One night later, I returned to the nest to watch an individual hatchling emerge and make its way down the long sandy beach all on its lonesome. Volunteers said that with a little luck, the little guy would swim all the way to the Gulf Stream – between 12 and 15 miles offshore. For more information on NC sea turtle activity, visit NEST online, or fellow blogger Courtney’s page here.

A lone loggerhead hatchling peaking out of the nest. Photo courtesy of NEST.

A lone loggerhead hatchling peaking out of the nest. Photo courtesy of NEST.

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