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Date of Issue: August 20, 2008

First hatchlings head for Gulf

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In the excavation of a loggerhead sea turtle nest in Anna Maria last week, one live hatchling is found among the shell remains. The hatchling, which had become trapped in its partially broken egg, crawled to the Gulf of Mexico.
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John DeFazio checks a sea turtle nest on Bean Point from which 81 hatchlings emerged last week.

Sometime on July 22, 80 sea turtle hatchlings emerged from a nest on the north end of Anna Maria Island.

Three days later, one more hatchling left the nest for the Gulf of Mexico.

The hatchling was found, caught in a partially open shell, during an excavation of the nest early July 25.

John DeFazio, a coordinator with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, checked the nest that morning. He knew at dawn July 23 that hatchlings had emerged by the dip in the sand and “all the tiny tracks going down to the water.

DeFazio became involved with AMITW, which monitors the beach for nesting activity on the Island, about 20 years ago.

Over the years, he’s excavated hundreds of nests.

On July 25, DeFazio arrived to Bean Point with a clipboard, two AMITW volunteer walkers and two of their curious relatives.

He removed the yellow stakes used to mark the nest and pushed the sand. Then DeFazio reached into a hole in the sand and began to remove broken turtle eggs.

Several minutes into the process, he lifted from the nest a hatchling, still partly stuck in its egg, covered in sand and somewhat sluggish.

The onlookers stepped forward and voiced a collective “wow.”

DeFazio set the hatchling on the sand, allowing it time to “wake up,” and continued to review the contents of the nest, which contained a total of 80 hatched eggs, one dead hatchling and one unhatched egg.

DeFazio then carried the hatchling to about three feet from the water’s edge and set the turtle on the wet sand.

The hatchling crawled, and with each wave seemed to lose ground, but eventually went out to sea.

DeFazio said it’s important the turtles crawl on the sand.

“As far as we know, when they crawl on the beach they get certain chemical clues,” he said, adding that when females reach adulthood, they nest on the beach where they were hatched.

Nesting season on Anna Maria Island begins in early May and continues through October. AMITW volunteers monitor the beach primarily during the first months for the creation of nests. In July, nesting slows down and the hatching of the nests begins.

The hatchlings, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, wait just beneath the sand surface until conditions become cool. The temperature cue prompts the hatchlings to emerge - usually at night.

The turtles instinctively move in the brightest direction - on a natural beach that’s the open view of the night sky, reflected by the water. The hatchlings tend to move away from silhouetted objects associated with dunes and vegetation.