Early Sunday morning Bill Little and I visited Archie Carr NWR in hopes of seeing nesting turtles and turtle hatchlings. As we walked along the beach we saw several people ahead slowly walking toward the water. As we neared them we found them following a small hatchling just entering the water. One of the ladies was Ursula Dubrick a fellow photographer from Melbourne. Ursula was a wonderful resource in learning about Archie Carr. Ursula's photographs can be found at http://www.udubrickphotos.com and she frequently posts on Facebook. As we continued down the beach we spotted a Loggerhead returning to the ocean from her nest. With the sun just rising and blue skies it was a magical moment to watch this exhausted turtle make her way back to the sea.
The loggerhead is the world's second largest turtle with average weight of 180 to 400 lbs and a length range of 28 to 37 inches. They have a wide distribution inhabiting the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Loggerheads will first reproduce around the age of 28 - 33 yrs., and have an average lifespan in the wild of 47 - 67 yrs.
Along the Florida coast the loggerhead nesting season is from May through August. Females return to near the beach where they hatched. They exit the water, climb the beach, and scrape away the surface sand to form a body pit. With their hind limbs, they excavate an egg chamber in which the eggs are deposited. The females then cover the egg chamber and body pit with sand, and finally return to the sea. This process takes one to two hours, and occurs in open sand areas or on top of sand dunes. The average clutch size is 112 eggs.
In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service classify them as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Fishing gear is the biggest threat to loggerheads in the open ocean. They often become entangled in longlines or gillnets. Another major problem for turtles is ingesting floating plastic debris such as bags, balloons, fishing line, etc. It is estimated that as many as 24,000 metric tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans each year.
The following two photos are of the second loggerhead we observed that morning. When we found this lady she was still buried in the sand and sea grasses laying eggs. We could actually see her dropping eggs into the nest cavity before she carefully covered the nest. Here she starts her journey back to the sea.
She finally reaches water and returns to the open sea.
While photographing this lady we did see a third loggerhead returning to the ocean further south from our location. While these were both loggerheads; green turtles also nest along the coast. I hope to return soon and see more of these wonderful creatures.
A big thanks to Bill Little for arranging this trip. Bill can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BillLittlePhoto and also at http://www.billlittlephotography.com
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