Relocating sea turtle nests from one site to another is a common conservation practice. The rationale behind this measure is that some nests would be “doomed” if they were left where there were laid.
I already relocated several nests this year and want to share with you the entire process, from locating the egg chamber, to burying the eggs at another site.
When I find a turtle nest that needs to be relocated, the first thing I need to do is to locate the turtle eggs. In order to do this, I use an Egg Chamber Locator, which is basically a stick but scientists often like to give fancy names to common things. I use the ECL to poke at the sand and try to locate a soft spot within the nesting area. This soft spot is the place where the turtle dug her nest, laid her eggs, and subsequently covered it with sand. It is a common misconception that the stick is used to try to poke an egg to find the nest. The pokes are gentle and are only used to assess the compactness of the sand.
Once the egg chamber is located, I cautiously dig down to the eggs. When I find the first egg, I carefully start transferring the eggs to a Mobile Egg Transporter (a bucket). The eggs are transferred one by one and the polarity of each egg is preserved: eggs are carefully transferred so that “North” always faces “North” and “South” always “South”. All the eggs are removed in this manner. Once the egg chamber is emptied, I take the measurements of the nest: depth of the nest, width at the bottom, and width at the top. I finish by covering the eggs with a cloth to keep them in the cool and place some sand from the original nest atop them.
The eggs are then moved to another location on the beach or to the hatchery. At the new site, I start by digging a new egg chamber that has the same dimensions as the original nest. I dig a light bulb-shaped hole and carefully measure all the dimensions to ensure all the eggs will fit in the nest! I then place the eggs in the new egg chamber. Again, I ensure that polarity is maintained. All the eggs are placed and then I cover them with sand. First I use the sand that I removed from the original site, then I use the sand from the hole I dug at the new site.
Finally I can place a nest marker where the eggs have been moved. In approximately 60 days I can come back to see that the eggs have hatched and the hatchlings make it safely to the sea!