Vero Beach -- a charming town on Florida's Atlantic coast. We have visited Vero pretty often over the past twenty years, ever since my in-laws bought a condo there. We often used to go down on spring break, until the first child went to college and the kids' spring breaks no longer coincided. When we started visiting in late May and early June, we learned that this time of year is turtle nesting season.
Early one morning several years ago, my daughter and I were walking along the beach looking for shells or whatever we could find. Suddenly a woman who lived in one of the houses on the beach popped out from behind a row of sea grape and asked if we were looking for turtle tracks. We didn't have any idea what turtle tracks looked like. She kindly showed us some tracks and a nest. The tracks look a lot like tire tracks from an ATV, so we had possibly seen the tracks before and thought they were just tracks from the shore patrol.
She also told us that the female turtle cries as she lays her eggs. (The turtles don't really "cry" of course, but their eyes do water in order to remove excess salt.) After talking to the turtle lady, I was hooked. I love to look for turtle tracks, especially early in the morning before the turtle patrol has come along to drive on the tracks and flag the nests.
Last week was a particularly good one for turtle nesting. Some mornings we spotted as many as six sets of fresh tracks. Florida's east coast is a popular spot for loggerhead turtles to nest although leatherbacks and green turtles also nest there. The female loggerhead turtle nests on average every two to three years, beginning around age 30. She will nest an average of four, but as many as seven, times during a single season, laying 60-120 ping-pong-ball-sized eggs in each nest. Amazingly, the turtles return to the same beach where they hatched.
They usually nest at night, so I have never seen the turtles themselves, but we may have seen one surfacing this year a little way off shore. A brownish shape appeared a few times one day when we were in the waves. (Need I say, it freaked me out? I am nervous about living creatures in the ocean. Especially since someone was bitten by a shark in the exact same stretch of beach earlier in May this year!)
The eggs hatch after about sixty days, and the tiny two-inch hatchlings make a nighttime run to the ocean. Only one in a thousand of the endangered hatchlings live to maturity, so the females who crawl up on Vero Beach's sandy shore are real survivors.
|A fresh nest and a flagged nest several days old.|