Nighttime Crawls and Daily Nest Work

As part of #7Days4SeaTurtles this week, we’re following DNR sea turtle technicians Sarah Martin, Kyle Coleman and Jack Brzoza as they work the beach – Sarah on Little St. Simons and Kyle and Jack on Ossabaw Island. Sarah starts today’s post, then Kyle picks up following his and Jack’s day off on Wednesday.

I thought yesterday, when I had the chance to see and hold some hatchlings, couldn’t get any better. But I was proven wrong last night!

Since the hatchlings at nest no. 1 (see Wednesday’s post) were so close to the surface, we determined they would probably hatch last night. I and some of Little St. Simons’ staff decided to go out at sunset and see if we could spot the hatchlings emerge.

Leaving behind all the extra poundage from my patrol equipment took such a load off biking on the beach! It was a beautiful evening at low tide and I felt like I was in one of those advertisements for luxury resorts.

We got to the nest awhile before sun down so we went ghost crab searching to pass the time. At the beginning of the night, the sand was still warm underneath the surface so we had to wait even longer. The hatchlings will dig close to the top of the nest cavity and wait for the sand to cool down. This is how they know it is nighttime and the coast is clear.

The tide was coming in when I checked the nest one last time: We finally had some hatchlings come out! (See the video.)

LSSI_HatchlingSurf_SarahMartin_DNR
A loggerhead hatchling reaches the water on Little St. Simons (Sarah Martin/DNR)

We were able to watch them race down to the surf and swim away into the dark. But we had to high-tail it out of there after a few turtles emerged so we could beat the tide.

This morning, I saw evidence of the rest of the nest emerging. The hatchlings’ tiny flippers make some cute tracks!

Our inventory of the nest will take place next Wednesday, July 19, and I’m excited to see what other surprises we will experience in the meantime.

Nest Process at Ossabaw

Jack and I are back from the off day yesterday. Ossabaw is somewhat remote so we have one day a week to get off the island and get groceries while dealing with Savannah traffic (it’s a rather sudden change of pace from the occasional alligator roadblock on our island).

Ossabaw_GatorRoadblock_KyleColeman_DNR_crop
Just wait until the big gator with the wild hog in its mouth moves (Kyle Coleman/DNR)

Today was a great day to be back on the beach. Not only did we find six new nests but we’re seeing more and more hatchling tracks leave our earliest nests. I found my first nest as the sun was clearing the horizon behind a thin veil of rosy clouds so my victory walk back to the Mule was enjoyable (in stark contrast to the first nest Tuesday).

I’ve been wanting to film a little bit of what I do every day and I’m glad I chose today to do it. In the video linked here, I follow the tracks of a nesting female loggerhead up to a perfect (and large) body pit. If you watch closely, you’ll notice I only probe the sand once. That’s because I found the egg chamber on the first try! We call that a “hole-in-one.” I don’t anticipate getting one of those while swinging a golf club, so I say hitting a sea turtle nest on the first try qualifies.

When I feel the loose sand above the egg chamber give way, I dig down until I find the eggs, and I’ll take one for genetic sampling. This way we will be able to tell exactly which turtle laid those eggs and see any other nests she’s laid. Females can nest about every two weeks, so it’s important to keep up with which turtles nest where and how often. There’s a chance this one has laid a couple nests on Ossabaw already this year.

Next, I grab the GPS to get coordinates, a predator screen and a white stake to mark and identify the nest. The last thing I do is take the egg down to the water to dispose of the contents and put it in a labeled egg tube to be sent off for genetic analysis. And then we’re done!

It’s a little hard to believe we’ve done this 276 times to date. It’s been a great year, and I can’t wait to see how many nests we end up with.

The turtle techs will be providing updates through Sunday, July 16. Check out other #7Days4SeaTurtles posts this week, including photos and videos, on the Wildlife Resources Division’s FacebookTwitterInstagram and Flickr pages.

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