The nesting season runs from spring through late summer. Up to five nests can be laid during this time, with anywhere from 75 - 100 eggs in each. Waters surrounding Sandy Point have no reef, which provides easy access coming ashore, but also increases predators just off-shore. Considering 500 eggs might be deposited in one year, the agency considers efforts a success if "ONE" hatchling makes it to adulthood.
We quietly sat on the sand amid discussions and waiting while staff and volunteers, patrolling the beaches from 8:00 p.m. - 4:00 a.m. seven days a week, reported in on activity...or lack thereof. Two hatchlings were brought for us to observe under a pen-sized flashlights. Finding and pointing hatchlings in the right direction is just as critical as the nesting process. Otherwise, they might head off for the brush in back of the beach, or end up a pesky mongoose's midnight munchies.
A leatherback was eventually spotted digging her nest, and we were taken to observe. Her first attempt caved in, causing her to start the laborious process again, using both sets of appendages. This nest was far enough back that it wouldn't have to be excavated and replanted to keep the tides from washing it away.
The turtles can only look forward, so once the laying process began, we were able to approach from the rear while the agents collected data. The eggs were released in clumps and covered in thick, clear membranes as if to provide a cushioning affect. We were then allowed to "pet" the turtle; her huge head covered with a pink-spotted cap-like shell; the hide of her neck with coarse horse-like hair. Strangely enough, it was hard not to feel like an intruder during this intimate natural process.
The three-quarter moon, disappearing behind quickly passing clouds, provided just enough light reflecting off the white sands to determine Sandy Point is beautiful - definitely some place I'd like to return in the daytime. The beach preserve is open to the public only on weekends, which aren't during nesting season.
by Jose Kevo
January 22, 2003
From journal Last of the American Virgins