BY LIZA STROUT - The Boca Grande Sea Turtle Conservancy can add another description to their mission: sea turtle nest transporters.
Starting this Thursday, Aug. 8, the Conservancy is excavating and relocating nests laid on a large portion of the beaches of Gasparilla Island. They are contracted through Lee County.
With the upcoming beach renourishment, it is imperative that any nests laid in the 65-day window before work begins be moved to a location where they will be safe. Sixty-five days is the key number, since it is the maximum length of incubation for sea turtle eggs. Any nests laid before Thursday can be expected to hatch in time to avoid the renourishment.
“The eggs take from 45 to 60 days to incubate and a nest to hatch,” said Ched McConnell, who is on the board of the Conservancy. “Anything after 70 days, and you know that you have a dead nest.”
All new nests from 17th Street south to Belcher Road will have to be excavated and taken to an area north of 18th Street and reburied.
“We will be taking GPS readings of where the nests are originally laid for the county records,” explained Grace Harvey, who holds the turtle permit for the island. “When we rebury them, we will mark them like we usually do.”
Nancy Lingeman, long-time turtle patroller and shorebird monitor, explains that the process is far more than putting all of the eggs in a basket and heading north.
“The process is a bit more complicated than that,” she chuckled. “There are three buckets, each with a layer of moist sand. We have to be careful that when we rebury the eggs, we put them back in the same place they were in the original nest. The top layer of eggs will go into the first bucket, the middle into the second and the bottom into the third.”
View More images >>Once the new nest is created, the eggs are placed in a position as close to that of the original nest as possible.
“If you get the nest on the day that it is laid, the process is relatively simple,” explained McConnell. “After that first day, it gets a lot more complicated. The embryo has started to develop, and you have to make sure that the egg stays in exactly the same orientation as in the nest, or it will be destroyed.”
The relocation team also has to be careful to prevent the eggs from being jarred during transport. Even on the first day, the simplest day for movement, the eggs are fragile.
The Boca Grande Sea Turtle Conservancy will also be moving the nests that are on state park property.
While the Conservancy, through Harvey, already had a permit to allow the movement of nests for conservation purposes, a modification was required for the preemptive movement of nests before the beach renourishment begins.
The permit states that all nests must be moved at least 100 feet from any work that is being done on the beach.
The renourishment project is expected to be completed well before the beginning of the 2014 sea turtle nesting season.
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