Nature Never Fails to Amaze: Leatherback Update

On April 17, 2012 a Leatherback Sea Turtle, measuring 5’11” from flipper to flipper, crawled up onto our beach to lay her eggs. Every year, 100 to 250 Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests are laid on Kiawah, but a Leatherback nesting was exceptional news since it was only the second Leatherback nest in the past 20+ years. On July 9th, well past the expected hatch date, Kiawah Turtle Patrol, directed by SCDNR, evaluated the nest.  Carefully digging up the nest, they found no viable hatchlings.  It was determined that development inside the eggs had stopped, and sadly the nest was classified as “unsuccessful”.

Earlier this week, to our astonishment, 3 to 4 live hatchlings emerged from the nest.  Unfortunately, before Turtle Patrol could react to the news, one hatchling was taken by a crab, another one by a crow.  Consequently, SCDNR requested our Turtle Patrol to conduct an additional nest evaluation.  Amazingly, the nest evaluation revealed 31 hatched shells.  Kiawah’s Turtle Patrol believes these turtles must have hatched during the windy nights last week because no abundance of hatchling tracks were ever observed at the nest.  The evaluation also uncovered one live, although sluggish, hatchling which they helped to the ocean.  In total, of the 87 eggs that were originally laid, the evaluation revealed 39 full unhatched eggs, 13 pipped (some turtle formation), 31 hatched, 1 unknown, 21 spacer eggs and 1 live turtle.

Typically, it is stated that Leatherback Sea Turtles have a 60 to 65 day incubation period, meaning that hatchlings emerge from the ground 60 to 65 days after the nest is laid.  July 24th marked day 98!  We are now excited to change the status of our Leatherback nest to SUCCESSFUL!  If you enjoy Kiawah’s wildlife, follow our Naturalists in the field.