Three more baby green sea turtles hatch in Delaware

Three more baby green sea turtles hatched this morning at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment in Lewes, joining the three others that hatched Sunday; and tomorrow, the six siblings will be released in the ocean.

However, because ocean temperatures off the Delaware coast are too cold for the six tiny turtles, they will be taken to Morehead City, NC to be released into warmer waters. Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Biologist Edna Stetzar says the details of the trip are being finalized today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. DNREC says Dr. Matthew Godfrey, coordinator of the Commission’s Sea Turtle Project, will take custody of the turtles and eggs at the North Carolina University Marine Lab.

“Dr. Godfrey has been working with us every step of the way since we found the nest in August,” said Stetzar. “He has a regular routine for helping these turtles. They will go to the Pine Knolls Aquarium to make sure they are properly hydrated and to wait for arrangements with a charter boat to take them out into the ocean for release. The remaining eggs will go into an incubator, with hopes that more will hatch.”

The six newly-hatched green sea turtles beat tremendous odds, according to DNREC. Initially discovered in mid-August, the nest was moved to higher ground and covered, but then Hurricane Irene piled on a heavy 14-inch layer of sand on top of the nest. 

Back on Oct. 5, DNREC, along with volunteers from the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR), excavated and moved the clutch of nearly 190 eggs from the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park to the University of Delaware’s Lewes facility for incubation, saving them from the cold that further threatened their chances of survival. Stetzar says this is the first recorded green sea turtle nest in Delaware. Sea turtles typically lay their eggs in warmer climates, according to the biologist.

“The fact that some of the eggs have survived, despite weathering a hurricane and being dug up and moved twice, is a testament to the hardiness and survival ability of sea  turtles. They are truly amazing animals that will hopefully survive and thrive well into the future,” Stetzar added.

Since hatching, MERR volunteers have been taking extra special care not to disturb the newly-hatched, silver dollar-sized turtles, while also closely monitoring the unhatched eggs around the clock ahead of their journey south. 

“Slow and steady won the turtles’ race to Delaware’s beaches for nesting last summer,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “Now we will send the baby sea turtles on a speedier journey to North Carolina for nurturing in their native habitat.”

“What an amazing story of survival against all odds,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “We hope they will grow up to help the recovery of their species – and maybe one day, one of them or their children will return to Delaware shores to lay eggs of their own.”

The green sea turtle is protected as an endangered species in Delaware and as a threatened species federally.

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