Georgia Sea Turtle Conservation – Part 3

Nature, Wildlife

Technicians and biologists want to leave sea turtle nests as undisturbed as possible in order to protect the eggs.  But, the eggs can be harmed if the tides bring the ocean water too close.  If a nest is built below or very close to the high tide line, the technician has the option of relocating it to a spot farther from the tide line.  This is done as little as possible along the Georgia coast (Georgia Sea Turtle Center), but it is still sometimes necessary.  After finding this nest, Anna decides that it needs to be relocated.

As we go through this journey, you can keep track of this season’s turtle nests in Georgia at seaturtle.org.  Remember, sea turtles are protected by federal law.  If you see a turtle or a nest on the beach, do not disturb it by keeping your distance and by not shining lights at or around it.

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When relocating a nest, Anna tries to keep as many variables constant as possible.  After putting some of the sand surrounding the original nest in a bucket, she carefully transfers the eggs.

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Using sticks to help keep track of the number of eggs, Anna counts out loud.

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Egg 100!  Finding this egg helps us both to forget the heat of the day and get excited.  Loggerheads don’t reproduce every summer, but when they do, they lay multiple nests in a year.  Each nest usually has 100 to 120 eggs (NWF).  This nest ends up with 128!

 

(c) Website and all images copyright Kaitlin Taylor 2016

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Georgia Sea Turtle Conservation – Part 2

Nature, Wildlife

After finding the false crawl, we head down the beach to look for more new turtle tracks.

As we go through this journey, you can keep track of this season’s turtle nests in Georgia at seaturtle.org.  Remember, sea turtles are protected by federal law.  If you see a turtle or a nest on the beach, do not disturb it by keeping your distance and by not shining lights at or around it.

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Anna is excellent at finding crawls through the sand.  Due to the extremely high tides during our visit, only a couple of feet of tracks are visible.  Right at the end of the crawl, there is a dug out area.  This area is possibly where the turtle laid her eggs.  In the picture above, Anna retraces the path of the turtle.

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The sea turtle could have left her eggs anywhere in this large area, so Anna methodically and carefully uses to dowel to find differences in the sand density.

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After finding a possible nest, she digs by hand as to not disturb any of the eggs.  This may or may not be the right area, but Anna doesn’t want to take a chance.  When I asked how many of the eggs survive into mature adulthood, she said, “Not even one from each nest.”  The Georgia Sea Turtle Center cites that 75% of the eggs hatch, but only .01% of the eggs laid make it to adulthood.  After a sea turtle hatchling’s long walk to the beach without protection, it must brave the ocean.  A loggerhead turtle, which is the most common on the Georgia coast, does not reach maturity until about 35 years of age (National Wildlife Federation [NWF]).  This is why sea turtle research and conservation is so important!

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Luckily, Anna finds the nest on her first dig!  The sand in other nests later in the day is so variable that it takes digging in up to four different places to find the nest.

Each time a technician or biologist finds a nest, they take a genetic sample.  Adult females come back to the beach that they were born on to lay their eggs (NWF), so the genetic database is one way of tracking the turtles.  Anna recently found two nests so close together that she wondered if the mama turtles were sisters!

 

(c) Website and all images copyright Kaitlin Taylor 2016

Georgia Sea Turtle Conservation – Part 1

Nature, Wildlife

Both my husband and my sister-in-law have unique jobs.  Until I met them, I had no understanding of jobs in wildlife management and conservation.  Yes, there are perks – spending most of your day outside, sometimes getting to fish, living on an island.  But, wildlife management is also hard work.

I visited my sister-in-law, Anna, in the Georgia Barrier Islands recently, and I tagged along on a shift of sea turtle nest monitoring.  Over the next five posts, I’ll show you my day with her monitoring older nests, looking for new nests, and relocating nests when necessary.  Anna works with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative, made up of public and private organizations that work towards conservation of sea turtles. All species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are endangered or threatened (NOAA Fisheries).

As we go through this journey, you can keep track of this season’s turtle nests in Georgia at seaturtle.org.  Remember, sea turtles are protected by federal law.  If you see a turtle or a nest on the beach, do not disturb it by keeping your distance and by not shining lights at or around it.

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Sea turtles come up onto the beach at night, so Anna and other technicians set out early in the morning to look for tracks and new nests.  The high tides were early in the morning during our trip, so we were out closer to midday – goodness the heat!  These technicians need to be prepared to be on patrol for hours with lots of water and snacks.  You never know how many nests you will find!

In the picture above, Anna finds some turtle tracks and is looking for a nest.  It turns out that this is a false crawl – the turtle came up to the beach and didn’t find an acceptable place to nest.

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What an office.  I’m standing in the water looking back at the island for this picture.  Anna is the little dot at the top of the beach.  Turtles nest close to the back edge of the beach, near dunes and brush.  Stay tuned for more on the process of turtle next patrol.  I have so much more respect for sea turtle technicians and more excitement about sea turtles after this shift of work!

 

(c) Website and all images copyright Kaitlin Taylor 2016