Researchers with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies are keeping a close eye on an area of beach in Pass Christian that is believed to have a loggerhead turtle nest buried deep in the sand.
A crew with the Harrison County Sand Beach Authority spotted possible turtle tracks leading from the Gulf waters near Pass Christian Harbor and alerted experts to their discovery. Scientists with the Gulfport-based institute confirmed the tracks belonged to a sea turtle and a team located the nest nearby the sand imprints.
The team then marked the nest with signage, stakes, and bright orange ropes to ensure the nest is undisturbed during the incubation period. Staff members and interns will monitor the area regularly every day for the next few weeks and urge the public to respect the boundaries and help safeguard the eggs.
It’s the second sea turtle nest found on a Mississippi beach since 2018. Last year, a Harrison County sand crew found a nest in the same area.
Sea turtle nesting season runs from the beginning of May through the end of October and researchers believe the eggs belong to a loggerhead sea turtle, which is one of the more prevalent species along the Gulf Coast. Other possibilities include green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are often spotted swimming around the barrier islands and the area in the northern Gulf is a crucial habitat for juveniles because the Kemp’s ridley are the most critically endangered sea turtles in the world.
Following the hatching process, scientists will conduct a nest excavation and examination to determine the exact number of eggs, how many hatched, and at what stage of development the unhatched eggs ceased to thrive.
Sea turtles use the beaches to host their nests and emerge from the waters in the middle of the night, dig a hole in the dry sand, lay their eggs, cover the hole, and then return to the water. The eggs typically incubate 50 to 60 days in the warm summer sun before hatching. Sea turtles lay between 60 to 100 eggs in a nest and have multiple nests during a single season. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 10,000 sea turtle eggs reach adulthood.
If you come across possible turtle tracks or a potential nest while enjoying the Coast beaches this summer, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies requests you call their hotline at 888-767-3657 and report the whereabouts of the sighting. Researchers also asked people not to walk into the marked-off area and to please keep pets away. Sea turtles and their nests are federally protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Photos are courtesy of the IMMS Facebook page.