Marco Island saw its first nest of the season hatch successfully on July 8 with a count of 115 hatchlings. This is certainly good news as many of the nests on Marco were impacted by tidal surge due to Tropical Storm Debby.
The incubation period for sea turtle eggs is about 60 days. Sand temperature plays a crucial role in egg development. The warmer the sand, the quicker the incubation time.
It has also been found that cooler sand temperatures produce more male sea turtles while warmer sand temperatures produce more females.
Sea turtle hatchlings break free of their shells by utilizing their “caruncle;” a temporary sharp tooth that falls off soon after they are born. They then begin a group effort of digging out of the nest. When they finally break free, they scurry toward the light of the moon. Ordinances are in place to keep lights along beaches low to keep hatchlings from becoming disoriented. There have been numerous instances on Marco Island alone where babies have crawled all the way to parking lots of condominiums due to confusion from artificial lighting.
It is important to keep lights at a minimum along the beaches and to keep a distance from any nest that is hatching. Flash photography and flashlights easily disorient hatchlings, causing confusion, temporary blindness and even death.
Sea turtle monitors, hired by the county, know better than anyone the importance of allowing these creatures to follow their instincts. Monitors do not disturb nests during the hatching process. Instead, they count the empty egg shells the morning after the hatchlings have emerged.
It is estimated that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood. Predators such as crabs, sharks, large fish and birds and other obstacles such as dehydration on land and eating plastic bags and tar balls in the ocean, are all factors leading to premature deaths of sea turtles.