Turtle Tracks On The Beach: The Loggerheads Return

Loggerhead SL

It’s July, and there are thousands of visitors to the islands off the Georgia coast. They come on feet, paws, and flippers. That would be humans, dogs, … and loggerhead turtles.

Yep, it’s nesting season for loggerhead turtles, and recently, I was lucky enough to see a “turtle crawl” on an early morning jog. The tracks are very distinctive, and the disturbed area of sand at the end of the tracks is the nest.

sea turtle crawl - Version 2

Nesting season lasts from May to August, and typically, the female comes ashore at night, crawls to a spot above the high-tide line, and lays 50-200 eggs. Turtle-watch volunteers motor up the beach each day at first light, and mark the nests for protection.

Nest 1

This particular nest also has a plastic mesh to keep out hungry, digging critters, such as raccoons, and believe it or not, mink. The shoreline at Gould’s Inlet has a rocky line of riprap to prevent beach erosion, which is home to a small colony of mink.

Net over nestNest sign

There are a couple of things that I find particularly interesting about sea turtles. First, the gender of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest during incubation! If the sand temperatures are below 85º F (30ºC), the hatchlings are predominately male, above 85º and females predominate. Just think how much easier it would make things if this were the case with human babies.

Loggerhead hatchlings Baby_loggerhead_turtle_detailed_close_up

And I’m fascinated by the turtles’ amazing migratory habits. Other than coming ashore to nest, loggerheads spend all their time foraging at sea. And boy oh boy do they get around. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has an ongoing project which uses satellite tracking devices to monitor the migration patterns of turtles. As this map clearly shows, “Lightning McQueen’s” recent ramble around the Atlantic and Caribbean has covered thousands of miles.

Turtle Migration

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, reports that so far this year 118 133 sea turtle nests have been located. And given that the survival rate for hatchlings is estimated at 1 in 1,000, a high number of nests is good news.

Happy Shells,


Photo Credits:
1. By Damien du Toit via Wikimedia Commons
6. By Elise Peterson via Wikimedia Commons

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

43 thoughts

  1. I love them!! Fantastic photos ~ I’ve always wanted to learn about the process for this, and I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see it for myself. I hope I get to one day!
    Thanks for this ~ so interesting! 🙂

    1. Thanks Andrea. Even though there are lots of sea turtles, seeing a fresh track, or the hatchlings emerging is still pretty much a matter of being at the right place at the right time. Unless of course, you make a concentrated effort and hit the beach every morning during nesting season. I think that being a volunteer would be cool, but it would also be a pretty serious commitment of time. ~James

  2. yes yes yes! when i lived in costa rica, i would always try to be on the beach at dawn (during rainy sesason) for a run and to see if the olive ridley turtles had left their calling cards. i know exactly how great that felt to see the trail… it was always great to see the tracks going up up up.. but no set going back – which meant i might get some great shots of a nesting turtle in the daylight!

    i’m so glad you posted this! thanks!

    1. Lisa, in addition to SSI, we had sea turtle nests on the beach in St. Augustine, FL. I saw lots of tracks there as well (many more nests in FL). I did see one turtle during daylight, but unfortunately she was dead. It was interesting actually. She was absolutely huge, and obviously very old. But her last act was to crawl ashore and lay her eggs, and then she couldn’t make it back to the ocean. Is there a serious conservation effort in Costa Rica and Ecuador? ~James

      1. http://zeebradesigns.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/the-red-light-district/

        Yes, there is serious conservation, but this past month brought serious concern to all who work to save the eggs each night. A guy was brutally murdered on his watch on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and the volunteers were locked in a car – thank goodness they weren’t killed either. I have heard nothing new on that – I should do a bit of research.

        There’s a second problem with the turtles, and that’s the illegal shrimp trawlers.


        I look forward to seeing what’s happening on the Pacific side whenever I am back in CR.

      2. What a terrible thing to happen. The world is a strange place sometimes. I looked at both of your posts, and the photos are great. I’ve never lucked into a nest of hatchlings, but I just keep going to the beach to jog, and who knows? ~James

      3. in CR the biologists have nurserys where they bury the eggs at the same depth of the original nest.. almost each day in the rainy season there are new hatchlings. i would go for a run but always stop and peer at the nests before resuming…

    1. Thanks Anna, for dropping by the blog and for the comment. Sea turtles are amazing creatures for sure. BTW, what qualifies as Northern Renaissance Art (which countries)? ~James

      1. Generally speaking, the whole of Northern Europe, but most of the exciting improvements happened in the Netherlands, Germany and France. My fave pieces tend to be Flemish.

  3. What a treat to have these remarkable creatures nesting in your little piece of paradise! I remember how strict the laws were in Hawaii to protect the sea turtles there. Even if they swam right up to you, you were not permitted to touch them. I hope the conservation efforts keep the loggerhead turtle numbers stable for a long time to come. – Mike

    1. The sea turtles, horseshoe crabs, and all the other critters make living close to the beach a real pleasure for sure Mike. There are strict laws in place for the turtles, but as you can imagine, they’re tough to enforce. But, most of the locals are VERY serious about protecting the nests, so that’s a big help. ~James

  4. How cool! I’d love to be there when they hatch, but I’d have such a hard time not helping them all reach the sea. .001% hard to believe that small of a percentage keeps the species going. Looking forward to updates on the nests and hatchings!

    1. Thanks Laura. I haven’t seen the hatchlings emerge, but it would be very cool. Frequently, it happens at night, and the timing isn’t predictable. They are a great source of food for shore birds, so this is the time when they’re most vulnerable. Also, they navigate to the sea by the natural light of the ocean. In fact, the conservation folks ask people with beach houses to turn off bright lights so the hatchlings aren’t confused. ~James

    1. I’ve been a jogger for years Bryan, and I’m always happy for any diversion to fight the boredom. Turtle tracks are a rare occurrence, so that was a good thing on this day. ~James

  5. Great post, so interesting and informative AND I just love that first shot, James.
    The little hatchlings are soooooo cute too.

    1. Thanks Vicki. I love that photo as well, and I wish I could take credit, but I can’t. If you’re interested in the photographer, the credit is at the end of the post. BTW, that photo was taken under water, and I’m sure that my swimming skills aren’t up to photography and staying afloat at the same time. ~James

      1. Oh, I thought it was your photo and here’s me thinking how good it was.
        (I can’t swim at all).

  6. Interesting post James. I remember the fact about how temperature impacts the sex of the turtle. I’ve never seen the big guys come ashore but I have been in on a couple of turtle releases. It’s a tourist kind of thing but still fascinating. –Curt

    1. A release sounds like good fun Curt. And the gender/temp relationship is a total mystery to me. Normally, evolutionary adaptations make some sense to me, but linking gender to temp … totally weird. In these days of global warming, does that mean that female turtles will be taking over? Any ideas? ~James

  7. Wonderful post! We certainly love our sea turtles here. I’ve gone on ranger turtle walks to watch them nest, but never saw them hatch. We are lucky here in Brevard – we had our first Kemp’s Ridley nest on a local beach, and a record number of green turtle nests so far this season (235) in addition to our loggerheads.

    1. Thanks Pam. I think that your area probably has the highest concentration of turtles on the East Coast. I’ve only seen the tracks from the next day, never the actual egg-laying. It would be cool to see the hatchlings, but I think that it would take lots of luck, or lots of eyes monitoring the nest to actually see it. ~James

  8. Oh I love this! I so so want to be somewhere during a sea turtle hatching season! Or maybe a whole year to track all the comings and goings of these amazing creatures!

    1. Thanks Jade. I haven’t done extensive research, but I suspect that many of the nesting sites are in the tropics. You seem like a tropics kind of person, so just pick a good spot, and check it out. ~James

    1. Jen, I’m happy to report that in the US, the turtles are of little interest to human poachers. Primarily, if humans cause a problem with the hatchlings its accidental, or more commonly stupidity. But shorebirds, crabs, fish, and just about everything else in the sea love to eat these little guys. The turtle Mums are working overtime to keep the number of eggs up. ~James

    1. Congratulations on your award Leslie! You certainly deserve it. Hope that you and Steve have recovered from your visa run.

      What a fascinating gathering of people you’ve assembled. We are touched and honored to be included in such eminent company. Many thanks. Can’t wait to check out all these enticing blogs.

      Please follow this link to our Awards Page to see our personal response and Thank You.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Terri & James

    1. It’s always fun to see a turtle crawl, and something I never take for granted. Most visitors to the beach swim and sun, and miss most of the really cool stuff that goes on. It just takes repeated efforts. ~James

  9. Amazing sea turtles foot print. In Thailand turtles believe of long life. On birthday some people buy turtle to let them free in the temple. Sadly that our neighbour countries use turtles for their food. Thank you for a beautiful post.

    1. Thanks Luksana. I hadn’t heard that about turtles in Thailand. How cool. Terri had a pet turtle when she was young, so she has a soft spot in her heart for them. It really is fun to stumble into a turtle crawl at the beach, but it doesn’t happen very often. ~James

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