Life on the Turtle Beach

What’s it like to monitor sea turtle nesting on Georgia’s coast? Find out as DNR sea turtle technicians Sarah Martin, Kyle Coleman and Jack Brzoza blog from the beach this week. Sarah works on Little St. Simons Island; Kyle and Jack patrol Ossabaw Island beaches. Their posts are part of #7Days4SeaTurtles, a week-long, social media-based effort to raise awareness of sea turtle conservation in Georgia.

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The daily commute.

Biking for Turtles

Hello, my name is Sarah Martin and I am the Georgia DNR sea turtle tech (or “Turtle Girl”) on Little St. Simons Island. I am originally from Pittsburgh and in 2016 I received a B.S. in wildlife and fisheries biology and a minor in biology from California University of Pennsylvania. I’ve been working seasonally for DNR for two years and have fallen in love with the state, culture and the heat.

I have been interested in herpetology and sea turtles ever since I was a child. When I would go to Hilton Head, S.C., with my family each summer, I loved to see the sea turtle nests. The whole process and biology fascinated me and it became my dream to one day see the work up close. I never knew I would be doing the work someday!

I am responsible for the daily monitoring, protection and documentation of sea turtle nests on Little St. Simons’ beach. I also lead nighttime turtle talks and presentations for guests. My position is a bit different than other DNR sea turtle techs. While the rest use ATVs or Kawasaki Mules, I complete my daily monitoring all on a bike. Little St. Simons is committed to conservation and vehicles are not used on the beach unless it’s an emergency.

It’s a 2-mile bike ride out to our 7-mile-long beach. So far, at 527 miles, I’ve almost biked back to Pittsburgh! But I don’t mind the ride: It’s beautiful and a great way to wake up and see the beach up close. Windy or stormy days are tougher, but with the added muscles and planning they’re still a “breeze.”

Let me take you through a typical day. I wake up about 5:30 every morning. Fortunately, I am a person who wakes up easily, so coffee is not needed (a very useful trait for this job). I load my backpack with data sheets, GPS, test tubes, first aid and writing supplies, and water. Then I grab my handy bucket (re-used ocean debris) that has a shovel, mallet, bungee cords, stakes and measuring tape. Last, I bungee-cord predator screens with posts on the back of my bike.

The day I wrote this, we had two false crawls and two nests. The night before, after a turtle presentation some guests asked to join the morning patrol. They were very excited to see the crawls and eggs in person!

The false crawls were at the dead wax myrtles on our northern beach. The females couldn’t find a way back to the dunes, and returned to the ocean without nesting. The two nests were easy to find and overlooked the marshes behind the beach.

Out of 86 nests so far this season, 10 have hit the 50-day incubation mark. I am eagerly awaiting our first group of hatchlings to emerge. It should be any day now!

Working Ossabaw

Hey! This is Kyle Coleman writing to you from beautiful Ossabaw Island. I am also a DNR sea turtle tech, and, along with Jack Brzoza, I’ll be giving you some insight into what it’s like to live and work on a remote island. But first a little introduction.

Ossabaw_KyleColeman_SharkHead_DNR
You never know what you’ll find.

I grew up in coastal Georgia and spent a lot of time on and near the ocean, which fueled my interest for every part of the marine environment. Many of my jobs since graduating from the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources have taken me everywhere but here and I’m excited to finally come back home and work with such extraordinary creatures!

Our day begins about 5 a.m. with a strong pot of coffee. We load the Mules with everything we’ll need for the day: nest screens, stakes, measuring tapes, shovels, GPS, test tubes and probe sticks, and head out to conduct our surveys of the island’s coastline. The Ossabaw coast is split into five separate beaches by tidal creeks, so one of us goes north and the other goes south. We can’t get to every beach with the Mules so it takes a little creativity to get around.

On a recent morning, I surveyed the north beaches. I started on North Beach, the longest continuous stretch of beach, in the Mule and then paddled across a creek in our PaddleYak to North Middle. Here I picked up our (t)rusty bicycle and rode along to the next inlet to complete the northern survey.

On the way there, I spotted an osprey enjoying a fresh catch on top of a large piece of driftwood. It must not have wanted to share its quality Georgia seafood because it flew away as I got closer and I was able to observe the unique way in which osprey orient their catch facing forward to decrease wind drag.

After completing surveys, I ended the day with seven nests, a new personal record!

Onto the Southern Beaches

Hi, everyone! This is Jack Brzoza. I grew up in landlocked Pennsylvania, but developed an increasing interest in marine ecosystems during annual summer visits to the Outer Banks. Following a recent five-month stint in Costa Rica working with olive ridley sea turtles, my passion for the marine environment and sea turtle conservation is at an all-time high.

I am excited to be here in coastal Georgia, working with sea turtles once again and contributing to DNR’s long-term conservation efforts.

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Installing a nest predator screen.

The same morning Kyle was checking Ossabaw’s north beaches, I was surveying the southern ones – which means using every method of transportation we have on the island: Mule, canoe, ATV, kayak and, of course, feet. (The ATV recently received a “DNF” – Does not Function — for the season and was replaced with another Mule. So maybe I didn’t technically get to use every method. …)

Continuing with the past few days’ trend of females being largely absent along the southern beaches, I only found one nest.

But it was also time to take hardware cloth screens off a couple more nests in preparation for hatchlings emerging. Hopefully, we’ll have the island’s first nest hatch soon!

Stay tuned.

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