Despite social media posts claiming they were trying to save turtle nests by moving them out of the path of high tides caused by Hurricane Barry last weekend, Director Mike Reynolds said Share the Beach volunteers didn’t move any nests, even as they tried to save eggs being washed away by the waves.
“None,” Reynolds said. “That was an issue we had. It got out there on the internet that we were moving sea turtle nests. We don’t do that. We can’t do that. The eggs were washing out into the surf. I told them to just gather them all up and put them further up the beach.”
Of 82 nests laid so far this year — at a pace better than last year’s — only about 10 stayed high and dry in the stormy Gulf churned up by Barry.
“The storm, before it was all over with, had washed away 32 of them completely,” Reynolds said. “There was no sign of them, no eggs, no nothing. Another 40 were significantly impacted in that water was on them and they were flooded for more than an hour and some for more than a couple of days.”
Team leaders are allowed to move new nests if absolutely necessary, if they are laid too close to the water. But that can only happen a few short hours after the nest is made.
“There’s a window of opportunity when they are first laid, 12 hours before the yolk will attach itself to the inner lining of the egg,” Reynolds said. “Once that 12-hour window is closed they are where they are at. That’s just where they have to stay.”
Moving them any time after the first 12 hours is almost a certain death sentence and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules don’t allow moving eggs after that initial period.
“Sea turtle eggs aren’t like chicken eggs or bird eggs,” Reynolds said. “You can’t roll them and move them. If you do, the yolk will separate from the inner lining of the egg and that’s the gas exchange. So, if the yolk separates it won’t reattach and the egg dies anyway. They are very delicate while they are incubating.”
Water over and into the nests literally suffocates the eggs by sealing out any chance to get oxygen.
“Depending on how old the egg is — if it’s a brand-new egg, just an embryo — it doesn’t need much oxygen and can last a day or so underwater,” Reynolds said. “If it’s an egg that has a fully developed turtle in it and it’s about to hatch, it can take 30 minutes or an hour underwater.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife allows volunteers to handle eggs that have been swept out of the nest and are appearing along the shore.
“We’ll put them back in the sand, we’ll let them finish their 75-day incubation, but they aren’t going to hatch,” Reynolds said. “Eggs rolling around in the surf, they are not going to survive. On day 75, we dig everything up and document it and turn a report in to Fish and Wildlife.”
Losing nests, Reynolds said, is not an unusual occurrence and in Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 every nest that had not already hatched in Alabama was lost.
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