Many of you know that the protected, threatened, Loggerhead sea turtles will be nesting on Atlantic beaches during these spring months, with hatchlings emerging in late summer. Females crawl up their beach each night to dig nests and lay clutches of about 120 leathery-shelled eggs. Some lay up to six clutches before departing for their feeding grounds, which can be up to 3,000 km away! They won’t return to nest again for another three to five years. The hatchlings leave their nests at night to make their frantic rush for the sea.
Sea turtles are a great symbol of the health of the oceans and are very emblematic for locals and tourists alike in the US, who are quite protective about them. Loggerhead sea turtles are found globally, preferring temperate and subtropical waters, but the majority of loggerhead nesting is concentrated in two main areas of the world — at Masirah Island, Oman, in the Middle East and on the coast of the southeastern United States, mainly from N Carolina to SW Florida.
Loggerhead sea turtles and eggs are hunted extensively in many parts of the world. In the U. S., however, the main threat is from raccoons and wild boar, which eat the eggs. On some nesting beaches, raccoons may destroy more than 95 percent of the nests. Encroaching human populations are also a threat. In Florida, almost the entire coastline is developed, under development, or subject to development. The introduction of exotic plants by humans may form dense root systems along shores, restricting egg-laying and trapping hatchlings. Beds of Sargassum Weed, where the early part of the life cycle is spent, attract pollutants such as oils and plastics.
In order to help turtles that may become stranded during migrations in the summer months, a Stranding Network was established in 1980 through the cooperation of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Riverhead Foundation. In response to sea turtle mortality in trawl nets, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued regulations requiring shrimp trawlers of the southeastern and Gulf coasts to have a turtle excluder device (TED) on their nets. This device allows turtles and other large marine life to escape should they enter a net.
I discovered more about these majestic turtles a number of years ago when I read Pat Conroy’s Beach Music. I picked it from a library shelf originally because the story starts in Rome, but in fact the protagonist returns rapidly to his native N Carolina, and a delicate part of the story is between the protagonist’s daughter and grandmother and their efforts to save these turtle hatchlings. By the way if you like sweeping, dramatic, elegant stories about the South (and the military) you will love Conroy. This was my introduction to the author and I have now read most of his novels!
However, this is a kidlit blog so I want to introduce to an elegant story, in its own way, about Tammy Turtle – A Tale of Saving Sea Turtles by Suzanne Tate and illustrated by James Melvin. This is #11 in a conservation series and it is a truly educational book with a heartfelt and simple message for children. We pick up the plot on a dark night when Tammy hatches from an egg with around 100 siblings. The HELPFUL HUMANS are introduced at this point wearing wildlife badges on and a message that professionals were involved in looking out for these eggs. These instinctive reptiles charge for the ocean and into the Gulf Stream. Tammy grows but sadly one day ingests some plastic she mistook for a jellyfish. The HELPFUL HUMAN officials arrive to save Tammy, who is eventually released again into the ocean. The story comes full circle when years later Tammy and her sisters return to the same beach to lay their first clutches. The ‘helpful humans’ are correctly anonymous and skilled animal carers in this book, so children will know to seek help if they find hatchlings or adults turtles in trouble. I do think this is appropriate in a conservation book but it took away a little from the kid-appeal for me. This book is endorsed by the Coastal Wildlife Refuge Society.