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.
Wow, has it been a big month for the loggerhead sea turtles on the island! First, we have reached the 50 nest mark, and continue to find new crawls frequently. In addition to nests, we are up to 61 false crawls. The season has progressed enough for some of the nests to begin hatching! The first emergence occurred on the night of July 21. Since then we have had a total of 11 nests hatch and have seen evidence of many babies determinedly make their way to the sea. Unfortunately, some of the hatchlings did get confused by inshore lights, and succumbed to ghost crabs and raccoons. (Remember, lights out for sea turtles!) Some of our overnight guests have delighted in the chance to experience the phenomenon of seeing the exciting and frantic journey from nest to ocean.
On July 30, Sydney came across something that we (luckily) rarely see on the island — a living, stranded loggerhead. The turtle was laboriously crawling about below the high tide line, and Sydney immediately saw the problem… a severe looking injury involving the face and head. The turtle had some epibiota, but was pretty healthy looking other than the recent looking injury. She quickly began to make phone calls, and luckily we reached our good friends at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) on Jekyll Island. The turtle crawled on its own onto the tarp we had brought to the beach, and staff and guests worked together to hoist the large turtle onto the waiting transportation. The GSTC folks met us and our patient at the Hampton River Club marina and whisked the patient to the turtle center. Before the turtle departed, Sydney gave it a name — Francis, after Fannie Kemble. So far, we have heard that Francis was beginning treatment in fresh water and seemed to be doing well. We will give regular updates as we get them!
The count is still increasing, and our total number of Loggerhead nests is now up to 38. There have been 45 false crawls. One interesting nesting emergence happened last Saturday. The female emerged from the ocean and onto Rainbow Beach, where she seemed to bump into the tugboat! Her tracks continued around the side of the tug, where she eventually made it past the wrackline to nest just at the base of the dunes. The dunes are fairly steep in that area, so the nest she dug was one that had to be relocated because of the placement near the tideline. What a night that turtle must have had!
It’s been just over one month since her release from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and Simone seems to be sticking close to “home.” By tracking her on www.seaturtle.org, we can see that she has spent most of her time in the St. Simons Sound (just north of Jekyll Island) and the St. Andrew Sound (on Jekyll’s south end). She has also spent a lot of time just east of Jekyll, right in the Atlantic Ocean. Great job, Simone!
There are now 26 loggerhead turtle nests and 34 false crawls for the 2009 season!
In summertime, we like to offer night activities several nights each week. We especially like to take guests to the beach for turtle walks; we look for females laying nests early in summer and for hatchling turtles later in the summer. Usually we get to share a lot of great information about the turtle project and our partnership with the Georgia DNR. It’s not very usual to actually encounter a female turtle on the turtle walks — they have seven miles of beach and an entire night to come up to the shore.
Last night, however, was an exception. Unusually high tides had washed ashore a large amount of wrack; the whole beach is covered in old cordgrass stalks, making it presumably even less desireable for a turtle. Outlining the expedition for the guests, we explained that the barrier may make our chances of seeing any turtles a bit lower than they would usually be, but our guests excitedly joined us nonetheless.
Well, we were wrong. Taking a turn north from the gazebo, the group was barely 100 yards into the journey, and what appeared but a female loggerhead! She was nearly finished with her egg laying, but the guests did get to see her lay a few of the last eggs, cover the nest with sand, and return to the ocean. How amazing!
There were two additional nests last night as well. That brings our total count to 21 nests and 21 false crawls.