BALD HEAD ISLAND, N.C. -- Naturalists lined Atlantic beaches yesterday to guard the "hatching frenzy" of the loggerhead turtle, a threatened species whose eggs were once sold as aphrodisiacs.

Scott Peterson, patrolling off the southern tip of North Carolina, said at least two nests were due to hatch early today and that naturalists would be on hand to ensure the loggerheads reached the ocean successfully.

"What happens in a hatch is the turtles, which look like fully developed turtles shrunk down to the size of a 50-cent piece, crawl all over each other until they get oriented to which way is up," Peterson said. Adult loggerheads weigh up to 400 pounds.

"When they start working their way to the top of the underground nest and beating their way to the water, it's called a hatching frenzy," he said.

Last year, an estimated 15,000 loggerheads were hatched. The turtles are considered a delicacy by raccoons, their chief predator. But Peterson said that even if the turtles make it to the ocean, they are far from safe.

"They have a very poor survival rate in the ocean," Peterson said. "It's anywhere from one in 100 to one in 10,000."