104 hatchlings start their lives

Volunteers count the cracked turtle eggs following the hatch.
Volunteers count the cracked turtle eggs following the hatch. Monroe County

In what one person said was a first in three decades, 104 loggerhead sea turtles hatched Sunday night at Higgs Beach in Key West.

“Higgs Beach hasn’t had a successful turtle nest on it since 1985 or ’86. There’s not enough sand to dig down to find a sweet spot for a turtle to put her eggs because it’s primarily coral. But this turtle found just the right place,” said Ralph Capone, president and founder of the Key West Sea Turtle Club.

The 2-inch hatchlings made their way to the water, offering hope for their survival.

The nest was found May 15 in the middle of the beach. It was too close beach volleyball court so Monroe County Public Works employees temporarily took down the net and put fencing around the nest. The momma turtle had dug a hole that was 17 inches deep and 6 inches wide. .

Sunday night, the baby turtles racked through their shells and began digging out of the sand. They huddled together until they were ready to make the dash to the sea as a group, following the ambient light and a black plastic bag “runway” created by Capone.

Seventy-two hours later, Capone and others excavated the nest. They found 104 cracked shells, with only four eggs found infertile and two hatchlings that did not survive. He also discovered one live hatchling straggler that was escorted to sea later that night.