On Sunday, December 4, 2011, history was made at the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR) in Lewes, Delaware when six green sea turtle eggs hatched at the facility. The eggs, which were rescued from the beach on Herring Point in Cape Henlopen State Park in October, survived Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene, as well as an October cold snap which lowered the temperature of the sand where they nested to dangerous levels. Two more of the 194 eggs laid hatched on Tuesday, December 6, bringing the total to eight babies.
The sea turtle eggs were discovered in October and were the first green turtle eggs ever laid on a Delaware beach. Volunteers at MERR, in cooperation with the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, moved the eggs to higher ground soon after they were found to protect them from high tides, but when an unseasonal cold snap hit the area in late October, the decision was made to move the eggs to the MERR facility nearby. Researchers say that the eggs would not have hatched without this intervention.
Transport to North Carolina
Because the ocean waters off the coast of Delaware are too cold now for the survival of the baby turtles, the hatchlings will be transported to the Pine Knolls Aquarium in Morehead City, North Carolina so that they may be released into the Gulf Stream where they have a better chance for survival. The eggs will also be transported there to continue incubation in hopes more baby turtles will emerge.
Green sea turtles, so named because of the layer of green fat found beneath their upper shell, are an endangered species with two major subpopulations, the Atlantic and eastern Pacific. The hatchlings in Delaware were part of the Atlantic subpopulation which have been found as far north as Canada and as far east as Britain. Nesting sites for the turtles have been found in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia where the waters are warmer. Although hunting and egg harvesting helped reduce the green sea turtle population, other factors such as fishing nets, loss of habitat, boat strikes and pollution also were contributing factors. In 2004, it was estimated that the population had been reduced by as much as 50% over the previous decade, and in May 2007, the species was listed as critically endangered.
Because the green sea turtles were on the endangered species list, there are strict guidelines that must be followed by anyone who has contact with the turtles. For more than four months, biologists from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) have worked closely with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Volunteers monitored the eggs around the clock and continue to keep lights low and noise at a minimum to avoid disturbing the new hatchlings.