Hatching Season

Across the summer months, the mallets and grids of Loggerhead nesting season gradually morph into boxes and brooms. Dozens of tiny disoriented tracks replace adult turtle tracks and camouflages, and tourists flock to join the commotion. This is August on Kyparissia Bay, otherwise known as hatching season.

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The first sign of a hatching nest is a drop in the center after an incubation period of around 45 days. The drop is created by the falling down and compression of sand as the newly hatched turtles begin to climb to the surface.

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Two to three days after the initial drop, the first group of hatchlings emerges at night, when the sand and air is cooler and safer. Since each nest contains around 100 eggs, it takes a few to several days for the nest to finish hatching.

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Ten or more days after the initial hatch of a nest, we excavate to collect additional data. This includes counting hatched egg shells and opening unhatched eggs to determine their fate. Most unhatched eggs were simply unfertilized, while others ceased embryo development at varying stages due to maggots, bacteria, or nature. Live hatchlings found in the nest may venture to sea, or may be reburied until nightfall.

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On the tourist beach of Kalo Nero, the street running parallel to the Loggerhead nesting beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, and street lamps, all creating artificial light which out-competes the reflection of the moon and stars on the sea. This disorients hatchlings, which are phototactic. Disoriented hatchlings may walk very long distances without reaching the sea, instead becoming dehydrated, getting hit by a vehicle, or falling prey to other animals.

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In response to the dangers posed by the human activity in Kalo Nero, Archelon volunteers place boxes over hatching nests during the night. This keeps any emerging hatchlings contained until they may be collected and released in a darker area of the same beach. The boxes are checked every hour until they are removed by the morning survey volunteers. Hatchlings that emerge during daylight are less likely to be disoriented, but other considerations must be addressed. Hot sand is brushed aside to offer a cooler path as the hatchlings are shaded to the sea.

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Regardless of the protection measures used, it is imperative that the hatchlings make the journey from the sand to the sea. This allows for exercise of the flippers and lungs, and for memorization of the beach so that they may return to the same area in 30 years after reaching sexual maturity.

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After reaching the water, hatchlings swim for the next 24 to 48 hours straight to reach their feeding grounds. Little is known about sea turtles during the years that follow, but the need for filling in the missing information drives my interest in the discovery.

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