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High Stakes Nests!

There is still time to witness one of the most interesting and challenging wonders of nature; the hatching of sea turtles. From May to into late October they come ashore with the sole purpose of perpetuating their species. They are one of the oldest creatures on the planet; the seven kinds that are around now (two of which lay their eggs on the lovely Florida shores) were also around with the dinosaurs! Each female sea turtle can lay several nests during one season but only nests every two or three years.

The process is an arduous one, taking hours to complete. While the sea turtle has a streamlined carapace or shell that helps them swim adeptly through the water, it is a different story when they come ashore. The female must pull her massive weight from the water to trudge to a safe spot on the dunes, dig a hole with her flippers and then deposit eggs, about 100 ping pong ball shapes, into the soft sand and then hide the spot by flinging sand over it. She then leaves and never returns.

The eggs will incubate about two months when the hatchlings will break out of their shells and thrash around to collapse the nest. They often wait for dark before making their scurry toward the water; they wait for the temperature of the sand to drop. As this happens they make the mad dash to the beds of seaweed off the Gulf Stream where they will live for several years until they are mature enough to make a go in coastal waters.

There are threats to these 'ancient babies' and they include pollution, commercial fishing, predators, artificial lighting and, most unfortunately, people. The adverse effects of pollution and even commercial fishing are very obvious. If the habitat is destroyed or too many of adults get swept up by nets, the numbers will certainly diminish. Artificial lighting sounds innocuous enough but as the little ones are naturally drawn toward the brightest light, they can become confused and put themselves farther from the water and in harms way. It is sad to say that there are also people who simply do not have the education or the compassion to leave these wonderful little creatures to find their way.

Sea turtle nests are protected and can often be identified by the wooden stakes and ribbons placed upon them as markers. This is to assist beach goers in avoiding walking or settling on these very fragile habitats. One should never interfere with any local wildlife. If you see a sea turtle nest or hatchlings making their scramble toward the water, certainly take a few moments to observe and enjoy what for these little babies is a monumental task of getting to safety.

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