All You Can Eat Mini-Turtles

SCA Member Jeffrey Sommer on Rescuing Hatchlings from Hungry Raccoons

Hungry predators are determined to get a good meal, even if it isn’t easy. Plenty of our screened nests see attempted predation by raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, and ghost crabs. Luckily the seashores boar population hasn’t gotten involved in this trend, as a boar could easily shred through the metal screens that we install to protect the nests. In some places around the country boar predation and combined with the destruction of natural habitat is so devastating to sea turtle numbers that major steps to limit wild boar in the area are taken. I digress. Predation occurs, it’s the natural order, but in the interest of conservation we try to prevent hatchling and nest predation as much as possible to hasten the recovery of sea turtle populations.

Last Monday, several raccoons successfully raided a protected nest. Their raid was spotted and interrupted by a sea turtler. The nest was a hatched nest and seven sea turtle hatchlings were saved from the ravenous raccoons. These hatchlings were not quite ready to leave the nest, as they had not absorbed their yolk sacks. Hatchling turtles take anywhere from 24-72 hours to hatch from their eggs and emerge from the nest. In the time between hatching and emerging they absorb their remaining yolk sack which gives them the energy to make their long journey out to their feeding ground in the sargassum (floating seaweed) beds. The salvaged hatchlings were brought south and were kept in a bucket until the morning.

At 6am Tuesday Morning Caroline and I brought the hatchlings to the beach and set them down just below the dunes, and watched five of the seven successfully enter their frenzy period (period when hatchlings turtles don’t stop moving until they reach the sargassum beds) and enter the ocean. Sadly two of the hatchlings didn’t make it as they at some point contracted worms. But, every turtle that makes it to the ocean is increasing the ability for the population to recover, so 5 making it in this case is better than none.

Our work at Canaveral isn’t entirely limited to turtles, even near the height of turtle season. In fact this past week was our annual [Florida] Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) Survey. The Florida Scrub Jay is only found in the great state of Florida and is considered a threatened species due to habitat loss. Annual scrub jay surveys are important, as they inform us on where scrub jays are nesting and help us protect their precious habitat.

These jays are highly territorial especially during nesting season. Our survey was conducted later than usual this year due to extraneous circumstances, and we didn’t observe aggressive territorial display as consistently as we thought we would. However we did observe plenty of scrub jays and the populations at Canaveral are doing just fine!

Top photo by Caroline Woodward, others by Jeffrey Sommer