Five days after we see the first signs of emergence, we will excavate the nest and take an inventory of hatched eggshells, unhatched eggs, dead hatchlings, and live hatchlings. This data is used to determine the hatching success rate for our beach. These excavations also provide a great opportunity to see live hatchlings that may have been unable to make it out of the nest on their own.
Several days ago I set out with a small group of guests for what I expected would be a routine day of seining and surf fishing. While I pulled the seine net along the shoreline, I expected to bring in an assortment of small fish, crabs, and marine invertebrates. I was hoping for something special like a bonnethead shark or a large redfish. The last thing I expected to hear when I finally dragged the net ashore were shouts of “A turtle! A turtle!”
Sure enough, a small juvenile sea turtle was kicking and straining against the net. He was only slightly larger than a dinner plate, making him just a few years old (Loggerhead Sea Turtles can take up to 35 years to reach maturity). Everyone enjoyed an up close look at the very surprised turtle, and I quickly returned it to the water, where it rapidly swam back to deeper water.
Juvenile sea turtles of several species routinely visit Georgia’s inshore waters during the warmer months, foraging in our nutrient rich creeks, rivers, and shoals. It therefore wasn’t a complete shock to find one so close to the beach, but it was still unusual – turtles typically would be expected to shy away from such a slow moving net, and in fact, this was the first time one had been captured in years of seining on Little St Simons Island.
So imagine my surprise when, just a few days later, on another seining excursion, the net was hauled in to reveal another juvenile sea turtle! On closer inspection, it turned out to be the same individual. By now ‘puzzled’ and ‘concerned’ joined ‘surprised’ on the list of emotions running through my head. Catching the same turtle twice in a short period of time didn’t strike me as a promising sign. A closer look at the turtle revealed several scrapes and cuts on the shell, some of which were still lightly bleeding. I also made a discovery that had escaped my notice the first time around. In my haste to return the turtle to the water, I’d completely overlooked that the little guy was no loggerhead at all, but a rare Kemp’s Ridley.
The Kemp’s Ridley may be the rarest sea turtle in the world. It certainly has the most restricted nesting range – until recently, just a single beach on the Gulf coast of Mexico. As recently as the mid-20th century, they nested in spectacular events called arribadas (Spanish for “arrival”), where thousands of turtles would simultaneously nest in broad daylight. However, as word of the location of the nesting sites spread, poaching of eggs and adults took a toll, leaving as few as 200 adults nesting a year – down from as many as 42,000 in a single day in 1947! Now, the population is slowly recovering, with around 8,000 nests per year.
Unlike our more familiar loggerheads, the Kemp’s Ridley is not know to nest in Georgia, though a handful of nests have been recorded in the Carolinas and Atlantic coast of Florida. The vast majority of the population may never leave the Gulf of Mexico. However, juveniles will often get carried by offshore currents out of the Gulf and into the Gulf Stream, where they arrive in Georgia’s nearshore waters. These young individuals will stay in our area for some time, feeding on crabs and other marine life before returning to Mexico to breed.
Given the condition of the individual in our hands and the overall rarity of the species, we decided to take no chances with its health. Fortunately, nearby Jekyll Island is home to a state-of-the-art sea turtle hospital and research institute. After a couple phone calls, the staff of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center arranged to meet us on St. Simons to take the turtle to their facility. After quick truck and boat rides, the turtle was soon in the capable hands of the Turtle Center.
At last report, the turtle was doing well and seemed to be in good health. He was eating readily and soon should be ready to be returned to the ocean. We’ll keep everybody updated on his status as we hear more from Jekyll!
Photos courtesy of Robin Lacey
The first reported loggerhead turtle nest of the 2011 season was found on Jekyll Island this week! We haven’t seen any activity on Little St Simons Island’s beaches yet but we are so excited for the beginning of turtle season. To celebrate, we are launching a contest and an opportunity for our facebook friends to win a free night’s stay on the island! To participate, click on the Contest tab on our facebook page, and then enter a prediction for the total number of sea turtle nests that we will find during this year’s nesting season.
Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common nesters on Georgia beaches, but occasionally we’ll also see Green sea turtles and Leatherbacks. Nesting season typically runs from May thru August, with the peak activity between mid June thru mid July. A female sea turtle comes ashore to nest an average of 2-3 times a season, although some may produce more nests. During the night, the turtle pulls herself from the ocean, up the beach to the primary dunes, digs a cavity with her back flippers and then deposits her eggs. She lays an average of 120 eggs, which are about the same size and shape as a ping pong ball but with a soft leathery shell. She buries the eggs, tries to disguise the area by flinging sand, and then returns to the ocean. After approximately sixty days of incubation the eggs hatch, and, during the night, the hatchlings emerge and rush to the ocean where they’ll spend the rest of their lives. Males are rarely seen out of the water, and females only come ashore to nest. We patrol and monitor our beaches daily, and help protect the nests by laying a protective screen over them to deter predators like raccoons and ghost crabs.
On Little St Simons Island, the total number of nests varies considerably year-by-year. The chart below shows our nesting trends since 2004, and may help you make a more accurate prediction! We’ll keep you updated as the season progresses. Additional information can also be found on the website www.seaturtle.org. This contest, which just launched this morning, will run until 5 pm EST on June 3rd, and we’ll announce a winner when the season concludes in September. Good luck and please let your friends and family know about this fun opportunity to celebrate our nesting sea turtles!
|Year||Number of Nests|
Sea turtle nests on Little St. Simons Island are now beginning to hatch, and new nests are still being laid as well. The total number of nests on LSSI is 106. To date, there have been 154 additional emergences of females who did not nest. Of the 106 nests, 33 have hatched already (31%). 2402 live hatchlings have been accounted for in the hatched nests. The mean incubation period for the nests this season is 52 days.
Island guests have had the opportunity to accompany our naturalists and the turtle intern to inventory hatched nests. The nests are dug up; hatched and unhatched eggs are counted, and occasionally there have been a few live hatchlings in the nests that were put on the beach to return to the sea! To watch a baby sea turtle make its way to the shore then dive in to catch its first wave and come back up for air, and keep paddling vigorously out to sea is possibly one of the best images of summer on our beaches! What else can compare?
The past two nights have been incredibly active for Loggerhead sea turtles on Little St. Simons Island, relative to the number of emergences typically seen on our beach. On Friday morning, our turtle intern Kristina Hammond spent the morning exploring 10 turtle activities from the previous night; there were two nests and eight false crawls, bringing our totals to 17 nests and 23 false crawls for the season.
Today naturalist Abby Sterling rode the beach, and was astonished to find that last night was even busier for turtles. She discovered a total of seven nests and eight additional false crawls! The totals as of June 5 are now 24 nests and 31 false crawls! This is shaping up to be one of our biggest turtle seasons, if things continue at the present pace. The highest year so far on LSSI was in 2008, with 113 nests.
The loggerhead sea turtle nesting season is off to a good start; as of May 27 we have encountered a total of 11 turtle nests on the beach and 3 false crawls. On Saturday, May 22, guests visited the beach on an evening walk to look for turtles, and saw a female far down the beach. They ran like mad, and got to the area just as she was arriving at the tide line. They watched her swim away, and marveled at the luck they had to have that brief look! Our turtle interns continue to monitor the beach daily seeking out new nests; keep checking back for more updates.
This morning our new turtle intern, Kristina Hammond, embarked on her morning beach bike ride to discover the first loggerhead turtle nest of the season! The turtle emerged near the time of high tide, crawled up into the dry sand, started to excavate a hole, changed her mind, went a little farther on to the beach, and dug the nest she laid her eggs in. Judging by the return crawl, she spent a great deal of time up on the beach. Her return crawl was filled with meanders and loops. Finally she made it back out to sea, some time after the tide had begun to fall. Kristina located the eggs and confirmed that the turtle had truly laid a nest, then marked the area with protective screening to keep out predators. She added a stake with today’s date so that we will know when to begin looking for hatchling turtles. The average time for loggerhead eggs to hatch is between 50 – 65 days.
Recent LSSI guests Ray and Janet Benedict took advantage of a beautiful morning on May 11 and decided to bike out to the beach to see the sun rise. While on the beach, they saw something that made them curious. They took a photo, and came back to the lodge to describe what they had seen. As they explained, we began to understand what they had been looking at, and the picture confirmed it… a loggerhead sea turtle had emerged from the ocean and crawled ashore! All of the naturalists were very excited to hear about the first emergence of the season! (Our turtle intern will arrive on the island on May 13.) Luckily, many of our naturalists have been turtle interns in the past, so we knew just what to do! That same afternoon naturalists and guests hit the beach to try to locate the possible nest.
May 11 was a fairly windy day, and by the time we got to the beach, many of the tracks had been blown over. We could merely detect the initial emergence and the last part of the return crawl, which were in wet sand. After spending some time looking for a body cavity or other clues in the vegetation, the naturalists determined that most likely the female did not nest, and had made a “false crawl.” Interestingly, she seemed to have a barnacle or other object on her plastron (the bottom of her shell) that made a unique pattern within the crawl. Hopefully we will be able to tell if that turtle tries to come up to nest again. So far, we haven’t seen another emergence.
It is always exciting to see loggerheads nesting on our beaches. Last year, 53 turtle nests were recorded on LSSI, and in 2008, a record 113 nests were found.
The 2009 nesting season for Loggerhead sea turtles is officially finished. For Little St. Simons Island, there were 52 nests, and 63 false crawls for a total of 115 emergences. Of the 52 nests, 11 (21%) were washed over by high tides at some point. One of those washed completely away; 7 out of the 11 hatched even though they had been washed over.
26 nests (50%) were relocated to a higher position in the dunes. During relocation, 2788 eggs were counted. The total number of eggs excavated during the season was 5213. Of those, 3703 were hatched, and 1510 were unhatched. Hatchlings found alive in the nests and released equaled 45 and hatchlings found dead in the nest totaled 51. The hatch success rate was 64.8%, and the emergence success rate was 63.1%
5 nests (10%) were predated on partially. The primary predator this season was the armadillo (3 out of 5 nests); this is a change from recent years. The other predation was by raccoons and by ghost crabs, who are normally the prime predators.
As for distribution, there was 1 nest on Sancho Panza, 16 nests on north Main, 2 on south Main, and 34 nests on Rainbow Beach (everything south of Mosquito Creek).
There were 3 loggerhead strandings this year; 2 turtles were found dead and one was found alive. The live turtle was immediately taken to to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center for treatment of what appeared to be a boat strike.
Additionally, another stranding occurred recently. A dead turtle was spotted on the beach by longtime island visitor and friend, Lee Breuel. She thought that it may have been an immature loggerhead, going by it’s small size. She informed Island staff. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The cause of death was not obvious. Kemp’s Ridley turtles do not nest on the Georgia coast, but often feed here.
Loggerhead nesting activity seems to be slowing down on the island; we have been holding steady at 51 nests since July 31. There have been 62 false crawls for the season. 16 nests have hatched so far, and many hatchlings have made the successful voyage to the sea. We will have a final count of hatchlings at the end of the season.