Turtle Team needs volunteer walkers

We need folks to walk half the beach each day during walking season.  You can walk for a few days, a single day, or one day a week.  We’re flexible!  To sign up, email me at judydrewfairchild@gmail.com OR call me at 259-1713.  We will be keeping a calendar through google, which gives everyone easy access to see who is walking.IMG_5898

By attending our programs, walking with us to look for tracks, or observing a nest inventory, you are joining a dedicated group of citizen scientists who are participating in a large scale conservation effort.

Gary McGraw is the permit holder for Dewees Island.  Because sea turtles are an endangered species, any activity involving touching a sea turtle, probing for a nest, measuring or relocating their eggs, or taking inventory of a nest is strictly regulated by South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources.

Every volunteer must sign a DNR volunteer agreement, whether you are walking weekly or just once or twice.  You only need to sign it the first time you walk.  You need to get this from Gary.  Call him at 709-6318.

We are highly dependent on all our volunteers to be on the beach each day, so if for some reason you cannot walk, please call Judy at 843-259-1713 to get a sub.   If there seems to be a dangerous lightning storm, please use your better judgement. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way!

Try to be on the beach as soon as it is light.  Hopefully, you will be done before 7:00.  Take a cell phone with you.  If you find evidence of a turtle nesting, call Gary as soon as you can—don’t wait until you have walked the remainder of the beach.  As soon as we know the location of the nest, you can walk the remainder of the beach and circle back to see what is happening.

The reason we begin so early is that there is a small window of about 12 hours after the eggs are laid when it is safe to move them.  The developing turtle attaches to the shell wall after 12 hours, and we can do damage to the turtles if we move them after that.  Since it is still pretty light until well into the summer evening, we can assume that the turtle came ashore after 9:00 or so. That gives us a few hours after discovering a nest before 7 in the morning to relocate the nest, if it is in a precarious location.

We have divided the Dewees beach into two unequal segments.  The North beach is from Osprey walk to the tip of Dewees on the Capers side, past the phone poles.  The North beach walk is longer than the South beach walk, which is from Osprey walk to the docks on the Dewees Inlet side.  If you find turtle tracks, try to pinpoint which beach access you are closest to.

It doesn’t matter which end you start with.  Some people even walk with a buddy and start from either end, meeting in the middle.  You might want to carry a trash bag with you, as well.  Keep an eye out for unusual animals on the beach, or dead birds or fish.

Find the most recent high tide mark, and walk along it.  If a turtle came out late at night, nested, and returned to the ocean before the latest high tide, the tide will have washed away the tracks; the only way to find the tracks will be to look above the tide line.  Bear in mind that the most recent tide line may not be the highest one on the beach.

Check existing nests for predation, flood danger, or signs of imminent or recent hatching.

What do the tracks look like?

Loggerhead turtle tracks look like tire tracks on the beach.  They are about three feet wide.  If you find some tracks, look to see if there are two sets. There should be tracks leading out and tracks going back in.  If you only see one track, the turtle may have gone in along the same track, or she may still be nesting in the dunes.

If it is high tide while you are walking, or if there has been wind or rain overnight, finding tracks can be tricky.  Be sure to look above the high tide line for areas of disturbed vegetation and thrown sand, or patterns which would indicate that a turtle emerged from the water.  Don’t hesitate to call a team member if you aren’t sure about what you see and want another opinion.

If you are lucky enough to come across a nesting turtle or hatching nest, STAY STILL AND QUIET!  Call one of our turtle volunteers, and do not approach the turtle or nest.

What do I do if I find tracks?

Walk carefully around the outside of the tracks and be sure your dog is leashed.  Make a quick note of a few things.  It is very helpful to the Turtle Team to know exactly where you are on the beach.  (They need to gather some tools, equipment, and a bucket and get to the nest quickly to assess for the necessity of relocation.) Are there two tracks?  Can you tell if the turtle spent a while on the beach?  Does there seem to be a body pit or disturbed area in the dunes? Are the incoming and outgoing tracks different lengths?

How can I tell which tracks are coming and which are going?

If the tracks are different lengths, that is a clue.  That would mean that there was an outgoing tide and the turtle spent some time on the beach.  The tracks you see the most of are probably the ones where she returned to the water.

If the tracks are the same length, then either the turtle didn’t nest, or the turtle came ashore on an incoming tide.  Look at the tracks.  You should be able to see the mark that the underside of the turtle (the plastron) leaves in the sand.  On either side, there are marks from the feet and claws.  The rear feet push the sand backwards, leaving a v shape in the sand which points to the direction the turtle came from.

How can you tell if the turtle has nested?

When the turtle team gets there, the first thing they will do is try to determine whether the turtle nested.  Turtles follow a predictable pattern once they have begun to lay eggs.  They dig a hole, upturning vegetation in the process.  They lay the eggs and cover them, and throw sand over all.  We look for field signs to see how long the turtle spent on the beach, evidence of upturned vegetation, and thrown sand.  Even then, we are never sure unless we find a nest.

Be sure not to destroy any field signs like tracks, sand or vegetation until the turtle team has a chance to evaluate the evidence.

How do I know if the tracks are new today and not from yesterday?

When the turtle team has finished checking out field signs or evaluating a nest, there will be an x across the tracks above the high tide mark.  We also usually leave a stake, marked with “false crawl” or nest # x and relocation data.  IMG_6352Or, you may find a nest marked off with signs.  If you have any questions, call anyway.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Candace

    Wow! You guys are doing amazing work 🙂 I’d be right there every day if I lived in your geographical region! Kudos to all of your volunteers – its great to see yet another creature being taken care of by humans like this!

    I would love to add Turtle Team to my blogroll … would that be alright? Maybe I can round up some more volunteers and open some eyes up to your work!

  2. reggiefairchild

    Hi Candace, you’re welcome to add us to your blog. But be aware that the blog covers life on Dewees Island, SC. Some times the cover where to put your trash. Other times it covers who’s running for our local property owner’s association board. Lots of posts are about the environment, but certainly not all of them.

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