Hawksbill nest excavation .

On 10-15-08 I had a real treat in getting to watch a Hawksbill turtle nest get excavated. The nest had seen hatchings surface and leave over the last couple days and it was time for the experts to carefully dig into it and study the remains as well as hopefully fine a few stragglers who had not made it to the surface of their own volition.

A good sized crowd surrounded the cordoned off area and I was among them. A recently acquired friend, Cheryl, of HWF and specifically Hawksbill sea turtle recovery alerted me to this event. Cheryl assisted another woman who did the digging which started at 5:00 PM. There was a chance for some live turtles to be found but certainly not a given. A few empty shells were unearthed and then three dead turtles were brought up. When the crowd was informed that a live turtle had been felt down in the growing hole in the sand, smiles immediately lit the area up like Christmas. As it turned out, there were approximately 190 eggs in this nest with three eggs that didn't hatch, three dead turtles brought out as well as three live ones.

The youngster above had been set on the sand outside of the nest hole but in heading towards the ocean, the hole happened to be in line. The live turtles were put in a bucket with wet sand after being set down in the sand outside of the nest for a bit. They remained there until the sun had set.

I had no idea what to expect or how the process worked. In retrospect, I am sorry I didn't move over closer to the bucket and hold the camera out and over it to try to get some photos while there was still enough light for a decent exposure. When the evacuation was completed and notes compiled, we were all given a chance to peer closely into the bucket and take some photos (NO Flash!!!) but the shots I took were blurred and out of focus. The trades have been light with some Kona winds for the last couple days and as a result, there was vog and haze in the sky. The sunset below was the first of hopefully many that these three rescued Hawksbill turtles will see. The turtles were carried closer to the water but let loose and crawled to the welcoming lapping of the sea on their own. There are so few of these Hawksbill turtles left in the Hawaiian waters that many visitors as well as residents will never see one. To be treated to the sight of some new youngsters heading out to sea was a great experience. With the selfless efforts of Cheryl and other volunteers like her who guard over the known nests, perhaps the population of Hawksbills can grow in the years to come.

On 11-12-08, today, I returned to Big Beach in the afternoon as I was informed by Cheryl that another nest from the same female Hawksbill turtle (named Orion) was to be excavated. This nest had 30+ turtles crawl out two nights ago and only 17 last night. This nest was about 10 days overdue in hatching. Glynnis, a Refuge Manager for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service did the digging on the first nest I watched be excavated and she did the digging again this evening with Cheryl assisting and documenting the numbers.

Glynnis had not dug down very far when she encountered a couple live turtles and it soon became apparent that they were not alone by a long shot!

Glynnis would clear away some sand and remove the turtles visible and up from the sand, more heads would emerge.

She would check them for any residual embryo material prior to putting them in the bucket.

These cute little sand monsters had too much movemet for me to get a good still shot in the low light available but it was so cool to see so many!!

They ended up needing a second bucket and I think the final tally in live turtles brought out this evening was over 80. After the sun had set, the group was released on the beach closer to the surf line and it was quite a sight to see so many small dark figures crawling to the waiting waves.