The onlookers bring their cameras and their curiosity. So many of them have assembled just before sunset, around a loggerhead nest on the north end of Fripp Island's beach, that Janie Lackman and members of her Fripp Island Turtle Watch team decide to cordon off a path from the dune toward the ocean -- a sand carpet, you could say, for this evening's celebrities.
Except no flash bulbs are allowed, and even if they were, there would be no celebrities to point them at on this occasion. The turtle team volunteer who digs up this nest reports all the hatchlings inside already have made their way to the ocean.
Nature has a way of reminding you who controls the schedule.
The Fripp Island Turtle Team spends late spring and early summer monitoring loggerheads who come ashore to nest, sometimes several times each season. By mid-summer, its focus has shifted to the results of those deposits -- the hatchlings. And when a nest is inventoried, onlookers gather, eager to watch the last leg of the baby loggerheads' struggle to the sea.
Inventories take place three days after activity is detected in the nest. Volunteers approved and trained by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources count the eggs that hatched, the eggs that didn't hatch and, on some heartbreaking occasions, the turtles that don't escape the nest alive. That's another of nature's untidy reminders.
But the inventories often turn up hatched turtles that are perfectly healthy but simply have not made it out of the nest yet. The team nudges these turtles toward the Atlantic in a ritual as enspiriting as it is cute. Children squeal in delight; adults stand rivited at the water's edge as the hatchlings learn to use their flippers and struggle against the surf to reach (relative) safety beyond the breakers.
Just past 7 a.m. earlier the same morning, that is exactly what played out a bit further south down the beach. You can see the turtle team's work in this video. Scroll below and see another Untamed Lowcountry video, posted this past May, that explains the turtle group's work to catalog and protect nesting mothers.