Sunday, June 05, 2011

Turtle Alert!!!

What a fantastic morning! I discovered a sea turtle crawl at Ft. Pickens and the mama turtle appeared to have nested.  We know that it was  a female coming ashore to nest because males never return to land after they have hatched and entered the water.

Unfortunately the nest was laid not far from the water and had to be relocated.  At the time I discovered it, the nest was 20' from the water line, right in the middle of the wrack line.   By the time the nest was excavated, it was 7' from the water line!  Timing is very important when it comes to moving a nest, especially one this low.

The crawl pattern was a bit difficult to dicipher, but I'm leaning toward a loggerhead even though the tracks looked pretty symmetrical.  A loggerhead has an alternating track.  A Green sea turtle has a symmetrical track, but displays a tail drag (unlike what is pictured here).

Another clue is that a loggerhead came ashore to nest on on May 19th, two and a half weeks ago.  Sea turtles skip years to nest, but in the year they are active they will come ashore every couple of weeks to lay a new nest. Consequently this could possibly be the same turtle that nested on May 19th!

Since sea turtles are a threatened or endangered species, volunteers may now only assist to a certain degree when it comes to an excavation and relocation. Bio-tech Rebecca Carruth came straight from her own patrol at Santa Rosa to help me and began to assess the situation.

We carefully dug down through the sand until we reached the eggs (Rebecca was right on the money when guessing where the eggs were deposited!). Sand from the nest was added to the bottom of our container and the eggs were gently lifted from the nest with as little movement as possible, taking care to avoid any rotation of the egg itself.

A close up of sea turtle eggs. They look exactly like ping-pong balls, don't they? And they appeared to be about the same size.

Rebecca lays the eggs in rows of 10, careful to keep them in order. The eggs will be placed in their new nest, created by Rebecca, about 150 feet north of the current location. They will also be placed in the nest in the exact same order they were removed from the original nest so that the bottom eggs will still be on the bottom and the top eggs will remain on top.

Approximately 60 days from now we should have ninety-nine tiny hatchlings emerge from this nest. We will be there to help them into the Gulf of Mexico and try to increase their rate of survival in the meantime by carefully monitoring the nest each day for any signs of predation, such as ghost crabs or other island critters such as raccoons, fox, opposum, and coyotes.

Life is good!!!


Loui♥ said...

I can FEEL your excitement!!
counting the days till the tiny ones emerge and make their way to the water!!!!
life is GOOD!!!
warmest sandy hugs..

Susan said...

DJ, Thanks for the photos and explanation. I have been walking on Ft. Pickens from the entrance and down about a mile. Yesterday, two volunteers explained the relocation. It seems that many mother turtles are burying the eggs low on the beach. Are you seeing a difference this year?

Thanks for your wonderful blog.


Ashley said...

My second comment in a few days! Rebecca is one of my best friends and it was great seeing her on your blog! I always look for turtle tracks when we hit up Navarre, but I haven't made a sighting yet.

Barrier Island Girl said...

Hey, Ash! Just keep looking because they are coming in! We've had an incredible few days:

Santa Rosa: 1 Nest on June 2
Santa Rosa: 2 Nests on June 3
Perdido Key: 1 Nest on June 4
Ft. Pickens: 1 Nest on June 5
Santa Rosa: 1 Nest on June 6
Pensacola Beach: 1 Nest on June 6
Perdido Key: 1 Nest on June 6

Seven Nests in FIVE days! Plus a couple of false crawls yesterday also (crawl width tell us they were different turtles) We're on a roll! We're heads past recent years!


Anonymous said...

Perdido Key: 1 nest on June 7th! A good year, indeed.

Ashley, you will need to come nest-sit with us some time in another month or two.