FENWICK ISLAND – Forty-eight loggerhead sea turtles hatched from a nest at Fenwick Island State Park last month in what officials are calling an “extremely rare event” for Delaware.
In September, images captured from a remote camera indicated that many of the hatchlings emerged from a nest late one night and made their way to the ocean, according to a press release issued Wednesday by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s (DNREC) Division of Fish and Wildlife.
However, the announcement of the successful nest and staggered egg hatchling was delayed until officials could assess the status of all the eggs in the nest. The loggerhead sea turtle is a federally-listed threatened species and a state-listed endangered species in Delaware.
Jason Davis, wildlife biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, noted that loggerhead nests are extremely rare in Delaware. This is the first documented loggerhead sea turtle nest in Delaware since July 1973, when a nest was found in north Bethany.
Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland also experienced its first successful loggerhead hatch in 2017 after past multiple nesting attempts had failed.
“We know that this is happening,” he said, “but we don’t know why at this point.”
Nest monitors from DNREC’s partner, the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute (MERR), arrived the morning after the images were captured in September to find a single turtle wandering near the nest, with 12 more hatchlings later found stuck on or disoriented near the dune due to a storm the night before, according to the press release. Those turtles were placed near the water by Division of Fish & Wildlife biologists to help the turtles start their life at sea.
Later that same week, officials reported that another seven hatchlings emerged and made their way to the ocean after sunset. An additional five hatchlings emerged over the next several days, making their way to the ocean. Finally, a single hatchling’s tracks to the ocean were observed one morning in late September.
A nest inventory in October revealed that 49 of the 78 eggs had hatched, according to the press release. One of the hatchlings died in the nest cavity, a common occurrence with sea turtle nests.
Davis reported that the original nest was dug and eggs were laid in early July below the high tide line in the Town of Fenwick near James Street, which would have likely ended in nest failure, resulting in a decision to relocate the nest. Under guidance of DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, the nest was moved the same day by MERR volunteers to a more remote and higher location at Fenwick Island State Park to ensure the safety of the eggs.
DNREC’s divisions of Fish & Wildlife, Parks & Recreation, and Watershed Stewardship worked together to erect predator fencing to protect the nest until the hatchlings emerged. Additionally, Division of Fish & Wildlife staff and MERR volunteers monitored and protected the nest throughout the anticipated hatch period.
On the East Coast, loggerheads typically nest on sandy beaches from North Carolina to Florida. It is rare for them to nest north of Virginia, and extremely rare for Delaware.