It was a different scene last Tuesday morning on Opal Beach in Navarre, where waters were calm, skies were blue and the sun was shinning down upon the white sands and emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico along Florida's Panhandle. George and I found ourselves on Opal Beach at 9:30 that morning to witness the release of Kemps ridley turtle hatchlings. One hunddred and four, two-day old hatchlings, collected from their nest, were released onto Opal Beach so that they could make their way to the Gulf of Mexico and begin their struggle for survival. The turtles, called Kemp’s ridley turtles, are the most critically endangered species of sea turtle. The turtles have an estimated survival rate of 1 in 10,000 and there are only about 1,500 adult turtles left in the wild. The release was supervised by park rangers from the Gulf Islands National Seashore as a way to ensure the one-ounce hatchlings made their way into the ocean without being eaten by their many land predators. “Sea gulls, herrings, ghost crabs, dogs, racoons, cats, pretty much anything bigger than them will eat them — which now is pretty much any animal they encounter,” said biological technician Kirsten Dahlen.
Here are some pictures of these precious little creatures and of the wonderful people who helped them into the waters of the Gulf. I was so thrilled to be able to be a part of this release. I even had the privilege of setting three of the little critters on their way to the rest of their lives. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed the experience.
Female Kemp's ridley coming ashore to nest (photo by Cynthia Rubio)
National Park ranger holds two-day old hatchling
This little feller seems eager to hit the beach
First two are on their way!
Ranger Kirsten (middle) watches hatchlings with another ranger and cameraman from WSRE 3 News
Okay, two of you guys are going the wrong way!
Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes.
Follow me. I can see the water!
Uh oh, that surf is going to be an obtacle for sure.
Wow! That first step into the water is a killer!
I made it!!!
Come on guys, the water's fine.
Are you ready for your close-up?
Doing my part to help this little guy find his way to the water
Deep in thought, George wonders whether or not we are interferring with nature and those directional genes by turning wayward hatchlings towards the water. Would Darwn approve?
Only a few remain to be released. Kirsten demonstrates how large the shell of an adult turtle may become.
The last to leave.
Good luck little one.