From Nest to Ocean: a Hatchling Story

Story and photos by Teresa Shumaker

Did you ever wonder how the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings make their way from the bottom of their nest to the beach and ocean?

It is quite an interesting process. When a female sea turtle lays her nest, she packs it tight in the sand so predators cannot raid it. (The packing process is lovingly called the “mama dance” by our staff because she rocks back and forth to pack in the sand. Click here to see a video of the dance.)

About 45 to 55 days later, the sea turtle hatchlings begin to break out of their shells about 12 inches below the surface. This part is called “pipping.”

The hatchlings then wait for all their siblings to break out of their shells, too. So they sit on top of the broken eggs, under the sand. It can be rather cramped in there, but they need strength in numbers to dig out. Once all the hatchlings have broken free from their shells, the nest becomes very quiet. Then in unison, all the hatchlings begin to dig upward. The digging out can take three to four days; it’s a tough job. When the hatchlings begin to emerge through the surface, it is called a “boil” because the sand bubbles with tiny turtles.

After all that work, their job isn’t even halfway done. Once the turtles emerge, they go into a “frenzy,” which is a burst of energy. That burst of energy helps them scamper across the beach to the ocean as fast possible, because now there are predators that can reach them. Once they reach the water, they then have to swim a long distance, sometimes miles, to reach the floating mats of seaweed. They will stay hidden in the seaweed mats while they grow those first few years. Then, when they become mature adults, the cycle will begin again as the females return to the same beaches to lay the next generation of nests.