TURTLE PARTS 7: OBSTACLES FOR HATCHLINGS

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Artificial lights, predators, and pollution can all be fatal to turtle tots. When people place lights on or near a sea
turtle nesting beach they can create a situation in which the horizon of the ocean is no longer the most brightly lit area, and this causes the hatchlings to become disoriented. This disorientation can lead to the demise of baby turtles.


Crawling in the wrong direction into nearby roads and parking lots, where cars then inadvertently crush them, or into dense vegetation, where they become entangled or completely lost in the vegetation, are just a few of the problems that lights may cause for the hatchlings. Lights may also cause a hatchling to crawl around aimlessly on the beach all night until they succumb to exhaustion or the heat of the following day's sun, which dries them out.

Natural lights such as star, moon and sunlight can cause disorientation problems as well, but this occurs very infrequently and even less frequently causes death. Natural light, primarily moonlight reflecting from a tide pool, may cause a hatchling to crawl along the beach instead of directly down the beach. But, it does not attract the hatchling to crawl landward instead of seaward as artificial light so often does. Any unnecessary crawling around, whether caused by artificial or  natural light, makes the tiny turtles more vulnerable to predators. There are many predators lurking in the dark waiting to pounce on them and even more if the emergence occurs during daylight hours.

The 2 to 7 day period during which hatchlings are still in the nest completing absorption of their yolk is a very
dangerous time for them. Their movement within the nest brings the hatchlings existence to the attention of many predators such as ants, ghost crabs, raccoons, opossums, coyotes and dogs. If the hatchlings are not discovered inside of the nest, all of these predators as well as night herons are waiting to grab them on their journey to the ocean. Should their emergence from the nest occur during the day, the hatchlings are safe from the nocturnal (night) predators, but they still must contend with ants, ghost crabs, the sun’s heat, which can quickly dry them out, and the swarming hordes of shorebirds that can now easily pick them off the beach. Making it to the sea is no easy task for the hatchlings and life does not get any easier once they reach their aquatic home.

Just about any fish that can open its mouth large enough to swallow a hatchling will do so. Grouper, snapper and sea bass are notorious for gobbling down the bite-size turtles. Sea bass have even been known to congregate offshore from a nesting beach waiting for the hatchlings to come into the water. Marauders from the sky are after the little guys as well. Hatchlings are buoyant and do not yet possess the strength to dive more than a few feet below the surface of the water. This limitation makes them easy targets for sea birds as they swoop down to prey upon the hatchlings. Avoiding all of these fish and birds will land a hatchling in sea grasses floating in warm offshore currents, where they are less susceptible to predators. But, predators are not the only obstacles that the hatchlings must avoid in the water. Pollution must also be avoided.

Plastics and congealed oil floating in the water can be mistaken for jellyfish or comb jellies, which are common food sources for the hatchlings. If these items are ingested by a hatchling they can result in death. Various kinds of marine debris, such as monofilament fishing line, can entangle hatchlings. This entanglement can greatly limit their ability to collect food, avoid predators, and may even cause injury, as the hatchling grows larger.






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