On a Day off, Nest Survey Details

As part of #7Days4SeaTurtles, DNR sea turtle technician Sara Weaver is posting about her work this week on Sapelo Island.

Today was my off day so Mark Dodd, DNR Sea Turtle Program coordinator, came in to survey the beach. He found two nests, which brings Sapelo to a total of 202.

Today was my first grocery shopping trip in a month. I forgot ice cream, but got a buy one, get one free deal on medium bags of M&M’S. 🙂

Since I was off today, I’ll describe what it’s like to find a nest. Basically, I drive along the beach looking for a large turtle track across the beach. The tracks are pretty hard to miss, as you can see from turtle crawl photos.

LoggerheadCrawl_Sapelo_MarkDodd_DNR_7182016
Loggerhead tracks and a nest on Sapelo. (Mark Dodd/DNR)

When I find one, I have to first identify what species of sea turtle created the crawl.

Loggerheads are the most common, and they have alternating flipper marks because they flap one flipper at a time. Green turtle crawls have symmetrical flipper marks, so they flap both flippers at the same time. If it was a leatherback, it’d be very easy to tell, because the crawl would be much wider than either a green or a loggerhead. However, Sapelo doesn’t have any green or leatherback nests this year, only loggerheads.

At the apex of a crawl, I look for a body pit, which is basically where a sea turtle “snow angels” in the sand and messes the whole area up in order to dig her nest.

Sometimes, there is no obvious body pit. The female may have gotten spooked or decided not to lay her eggs and returned to the ocean. That’s called a “false crawl.” If there’s a body pit, I probe the area with a wooden stake until I feel a softer, less dense area of sand. That’s the egg cavity. I dig straight down until I can grab an egg, which we will use for research.

And that’s how we find turtle nests!

P.S.: As most know, sea turtle nests are protected by law. Nest survey work done by DNR and the Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative is allowed by permit.

#7Days4SeaTurtles is a weeklong outreach by DNR Wildlife Resources Division to raise awareness of sea turtle conservation.

Sara Weaver collects an egg sample for gentic analysis on Sapelo
Sara collects an egg sample for genetic analysis. (Mark Dodd/DNR)
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