It’s summer and time to capture a Sea Turtle Sunrise shot for my portfolio.
I envision a giant turtle returning to the sea with therising sun reflected in her winking eye! Impossible? I am ready to give it a go!
I stood at the top of the dune line at Coral Cove Park on Jupiter Island. The sun was rising over a glassy ocean. The unmistakable tracks of Loggerhead Sea Turtless marked the sand from the water’s edge to the top of the sandy dune in front of me. The Sea Turtles’ flippers left unmistakable impressions like a miniature army tank. Many of the trails ended at a large pit high upon the sand dune–a nest. Some tracks turned back to the sea half way up the beach. It was obvious that last night was an active one! Today, however, the beach is lifeless– like the morning after a really big party.
Many of nests are only only hours old. Sometime between midnight and dawn, a female Loggerhead Sea Turtle measuring up to four feet head to tail, carried its 400 pounds a hundred yards up the beach, climbed this sandy ridge and scooped out a fire pit sized hole. Then, during an amazing effort taking three to five hours, she laid two hundred ping pong ball sized eggs, covered them up, and returned to the ocean.
I made a few pictures as the sun rose over the Atlantic. Here on Jupiter Island, the Gulf Stream current runs close to shore. It carries sargassum weed lines filled with fish fry, shrimps and crabs baitfish.
I imagined that the females turtles that laid eggs last night were once small turtles that frolicked in the shadow of these grassy mats, hiding from the Dolphinfish and sharks cruising about.
I walked a few miles along the surf line hoping to come upon a Loggerhead returning to the sea. No luck. I better do some reading and get some facts before trying again.
On this second visit, I found seabirds diving and strutting along the beach. They dug up a shallow nest of unhatched eggs. The high tide line was littered with shredded white shells bleeding orange turtle yolks.
I read that on average each Loggerhead nest contains 200 eggs of which only one hatchling survives to adulthood. This one lucky hatchling runs at top speed to the cover of the incoming waves while sea birds swoop from the sky killing his brothers and sisters. Once in the water, he dives to the bottom to avoid the talons of Osprey and Gulls that easily take his shallow swimming brethren. He skirts the folds and ledges of the coquina rock reef, while fast swimming Snook, Jack and Sharks patrol the water above. A birthing event this size attracts every predator within sight and smell. The vibrational waves of the feeding frenzy travel quickly though seawater calling even more hungry feeders to the table.
I also read that one out of three attempts to nest fail due to a man made disruption like the lights of an oceanfront condominium. I am learning that a full life is precarious and rare for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle.
I enjoyed photographing another Florida sunrise, but alas, no sea turtles.
I began began today’s beachcombing well before dawn after reading that the Loggerhead Marine Center in Juno Beach concentrates their turtle watching events earlier in the night– The Center doesn’t allow photography during the trips or lights of any kind that might disrupt the nesting. I will plan to shoot the sunrise photo in ambient light only and rely on the high ISO sensitivity of the camera. No luck again today so I took some instead, I practiced long exposure sunrise photos. The “Turtle Patrol” volunteer told me not to be discouraged, “Its still early in the season.”
Today, I am the first person on the beach, having “jumped the fence” of Coral Cove Park a full half hour before sunrise. A few minutes into my usual walk, I see some movement ahead, and yes, it is a smallish Loggerhead Turtle returning to the sea! She is moving quickly. I am shooting at ISO 1000 in order to
get an exposure in the near dark. I keep a proper distance and have my first turtle shot. Its not the postcard image I hoped for, but I am hooked. I will return many times and keep working on it. So far every trip has resulted in few great sunrise images–very much worth rising before dawn!