Sea turtle hatchlings emerged from our nest at 11pm on 19th June 2018, exactly 59 days after we witnessed the mother sea turtle laying her eggs.
We tried to count the number of individuals, but due to the pace they were moving it was impossible so we estimated a sighting of 125 hatchlings.
The first hatchling emerged at 6pm and by 9pm another had joined its sibling on the top of the nest. Both turtles were extremely sleepy, but we could see a writhing mass of hatchlings beneath them. Once the outer turtles woke up and moved to one side, the rest of the nest erupted with all turtles leaving the nest in waves. The whole emerging process only lasted a matter of minutes as the hatchlings are intent on following the light of the moon reflecting on the ocean surface. The urge to follow their instinct is extremely strong.
The wave of turtles spanned out and each individual made their own way to the water. When the hatchlings strayed into crab holes we guided them out, but other than that we wanted the whole process to happen as naturally as possible. We only use red light to illuminate the turtles as bright white light can damage their sensitive eyes.
Green and Hawksbill sea turtles prefer to nest close to the tree line, and this nest was buried amongst tree roots in hard compacted sand. Despite this and the shallow depth of the nest, a large majority of the eggs developed into healthy hatchlings. As these beautiful creatures are listed as listed as endangered on the IUCN red-list it is a privilege to witness a healthy nest of hatchlings enter the ocean and aid to the future success of the species.
Four days after the hatchlings emerged, we excavated the nest in order to assess how many turtle eggs were under-developed and to give some of the slower developing hatchlings a chance to complete their growth. Of the eggs laid by the turtle, we counted 126 empty eggs which fit our estimate of 125 hatchlings well. We then found four unfertilized eggs, three eggs where the turtle did not develop fully and one egg where the turtle was almost fully formed but did not hatch.
We had one surprise in the form of a tiny hatchling still deep inside the nest with an overly curled front flipper. She may have developed more slowly than the others and had not hatched with the initial wave of hatchlings. Due to the fact we dug her from the nest alone and she had a slight deformity in her front flippers, we did not want to release her alone as the risk of predation was too high. The reason all the hatchlings emerge together from a nest is to reduce the likelihood of being eaten as they cross the reef as there is safety in numbers. Instead, we gave her to Kuda Huraa’s turtle rehabilitation and head start program so she can grow to a size of 30cm in length before we release her into the wild. This way, she has a higher chance of survival. One of our guests in-house named her Flipsy so we will keep you updated on her progress.
Thank you to everyone involved. It was a great experience for Gili to be part of this fantastic process.
This article was first published on Gili Lankanfushi Maldives’ marine biology blog.
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