This is the second half of our series on Kiawah’s esteemed Turtle Patrol program. For the story about Nesting Season earlier this year click here.
Another successful loggerhead nesting season on Kiawah recently concluded. This year, 345 nests were identified along the island’s rustic beachfront. Through the end of October, this buried treasure has the potential to produce approximately 30,000 baby turtles. That sounds like a lot until you realize only one in a thousand will reach adulthood.
HEROES FOR HATCHLINGS
Right from the start the odds are stacked against them, beginning with turtles’ drop-and-run (well, drop-and-slowly-crawl-away) approach to parenting. But fear not little ones, herpetology heroes are on the scene. Clad in their official bright blue t-shirts (the color changes each year), Hatching Patrol volunteers are trained with special superpowers to help you make it from the close confines of your egg to the vast wonderment of the ocean.
Who are these guardian angels? The Hatching Patrol is a mix of Kiawah Island homeowners (including from our Timbers family) and quite a few vacationers who plan their visits to coincide with the endeavor. Throughout the season they will wear many hats. We don’t just mean baseball caps, sporty visors, and wide-brim floppy straw hats. We mean they’ll play the role of wildlife defender, sand engineer, pole and flag code linguist, running coach, and contributing scientist.
IN FOR THE LONG GAME
Once the Nesting Patrol has marked it, the identification card and care for each buried nest transfers to the Hatching Patrol. Loggerhead eggs incubate roughly 55 days. During this time the Hatching Patrol is very busy, playing both a zone and man-to-man (i.e. nest-to-nest) strategy to keep them safe.
At first light, on foot, each team surveys their respective zone. They remove excessive sand buildup and soften compaction over nests that could prevent hatchlings from reaching the surface. They record data for nests that are disrupted, washed over, or destroyed. They apply or reposition mesh screens to protect from interference and predators. As the season progresses, the excitement mounts as they start to see and document evidence of hatchings the night before.