Conserve Wildlife Blog

Rare sea turtle nesting!

December 24th, 2011

SURPRISE NEWS FROM THE BEACH

By Stephanie Egger, CWFNJ Wildlife Biologist

Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle. © A.J. Haverkamp

Last summer both New Jersey and Delaware had rare occurrences of sea turtles nesting or attempting to nest on their beaches.  In Stone Harbor, New Jersey this past August, a sea turtle crawled onto the beach and dug two holes in an attempt to nest in an area fenced off for beach nesting birds. Unfortunately, the sea turtle did not lay any eggs and eventually crawled back into the ocean.  Although no one witnessed the event, the turtle left strong evidence behind – its tracks! CWFNJ’s Beach Nesting Bird Program Manager along with other agency biologists was at the scene to evaluate the tracks.  Each sea turtle species has a different track pattern and leaves behind a different shape at their nesting site (their body pit).  It was determined that it was likely a state endangered loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that attempted to nest.

Atlantic green sea turtle. © Cordell Brown

A few days later, a federally and state-listed (threatened) green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) actually laid a nest of 194 eggs on the beach at Herring Point at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, just across the bay from New Jersey.  This was the first documented sea turtle nest in Delaware.  Biologist feared the nest would be washed away and moved the eggs further back on the beach.  When a cold front came in the fall, biologists then feared the temperature would be too low for successful incubation, so they moved the eggs to a lab facility.  Most sea turtle nests hatch in the summer after 2 months of incubation.  Surprisingly after 106 days some of these turtles began to hatch!  In the wild if sea turtles eggs do not hatch by 80 days they most likely are not going to.

Green sea turtle tracks on the beach in Sea Isle City, NJ, August 2010

Previous to these two events, a green sea turtle came up on the beaches in Sea Isle City, New Jersey in August 2010.  When CWFNJ’s Beach Nesting Bird Program Manager arrived there had been heavy rains which washed away most of the evidence that would have told us if the turtle had nested or not.  The area was roped off in case there was a nest and monitored by CWFNJ, the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) New Jersey Field Office.  After 80 days there were no signs of hatching.

It is not uncommon for sea turtles to be in the coastal waters off New Jersey in the summer months when the water is warmer, but it is a rare event for sea turtles to nest or attempt to nest on our beaches.  Were these outlier events or will we see more sea turtles nesting farther north on beaches in New Jersey and Delaware as a response to climate change or some other environmental factors?  No one knows for sure and only time will tell.  Either way CWFNJ will be ready to assist in monitoring sea turtles if they attempt to nest on our beaches again.

For further information on sea turtles see:

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