PINELLAS COUNTY. FL (WFLA) – It’s been a rough year for Loggerhead Sea Turtles on the Pinellas County coastline. Storms, waves and beach erosion have wiped out 73 sea turtle nests so far this season.
The storms have also pushed a number of hatch-lings back on to the beach. The hatch-lings have a race for survival after they crawl out of their eggs, through the sand and over and around their siblings as they make a dash for the water. Along the way they will have to dodge birds, fish and other predators that are out to make them a meal before they can grow to adulthood.
The goal of each hatch ling is to swim out to a line of sea weed before they are eaten. “The weed line is basically a bunch of sargassum and sea grass and just floats along in the current and these guys will go out there, they will camouflage, they will sit at the surface and they’ll grow,” said Adrienene Cardwell of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Tuesday the turtle team from the aquarium gave a helping hand to 17 Loggerhead hatch-lings that are know as “wash backs”. “A wash back is a turtle that has made it out. He got caught in the Sargassum and some of the surf from some of the storms and basically washed back into shore and got stranded,” said Cardwell.
Cardwell says each turtle is born with a yolk sack that gives them 3 to 7 days of energy to swim out to the weed line. “There is no food except in the weed line, so if we released them from the beach today that’s a long 40 miles without any food. The likelihood that they would make it there is very slim,” said Cardwell.
The weed line is a moving target that drifts with the current and can be 20 to 90 miles off shore. Clearwater Marine Aquarium turtle team members loaded the 17 hatch-lings into a plastic container and on to a boat to give them a lift to the weed line.
Once they arrive the tiny hatch-lings will be lowered on to the sargassum where they will hide, eat and survive until adulthood. ” These guys will end up being 400 pounds and they start out just being a couple of grams,” said Cassue Edelman of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Edleman points out only about one out of every thousand hatch-lings survives under normal conditions to adulthood.
“So you think about maybe a hundred eggs in each nest, anywhere from 80 to 100 to 120 eggs per nest. So you are looking at only one in every ten nests will make it to laying on the beach,” said Edleman. The turtle team is hoping Tuesday’s boat ride will increase the chances these 17 hatch-lings will be among those who get a chance to grow up.