Turtle Team Update: First Inventory of the Year is Sunday at 7:30

Curt Salisbury’s great pic

Our turtle nests have begun hatching on the island, and our first inventory is scheduled for Sunday night at 7:30, just north of Needlerush walkway. It’s a lovely time of day, so bring a drink and a friend. This is actually the second nest laid on Dewees Island, but it is the first we have observed hatching. In fact, Melinda called me on Thursday to tell me that there was a ghost crab right at the top of the hole and she could see movement within. So we headed over to the beach and got to see this little guy hit the water. Lucky for us, I was planning on shooting photography with Curt Salisbury, and we grabbed him off the ferry in time for him to get the fabulous shot you see here. DNR protocol has us wait three whole days before the inventory, so on Sunday we’ll open the nest and find out the hatch success rate. This was a nest we left in place, so we don’t know how many eggs there were originally.  Bring kids; leave dogs at home.  Sometimes there are live turtles in there, and we get to watch them trek to the sea.  Sometimes there are dead hatchlings or no hatchlings.  Please don’t load up with bug spray.

Why are there so few nests on the island this year? Should we be worried?

There are probably two factors in our lower than usual nesting numbers: the sand bar and the layer of wrack on the beach. Wrack is the large deposit of grasses and seaweed that washed up after Hurricane Beryl stirred it out of the marsh and deposited it on the beach. We have had a larger than usual number of “false crawls,” where the turtle decides not to nest after coming ashore, and they usually turn around at the wrack line. In addition, there is a large sand bar right offshore which is out of the water at high tide, and it makes a barrier between the beach and the ocean. The southeast coast is actually experiencing a record-breaking turtle season. Isle of Palms has just hit 61 nests, and Georgia has just announced that they have 2000 nests, double the twenty-five year average of about 1000 nests,

This is significant because we have been averaging approximately 1,000 nests a year over the last 25 years. This year’s nest total is approximately twice the long-term average.  Perhaps more important is the trend we have seen over the last 8 years suggesting an increasing nesting population. We still have a way to go to reach Georgia’s recovery goal of 2,800 nests, but we’re a lot closer than we were a few years ago. Honestly, it‘s starting to look like an achievable goal.  Cumberland Island is having a particularly good year with over 600 nests.  Many other beaches have surpassed or are approaching record nest numbers.    (Georgia DNR)

Why hasn’t nest 1 hatched?  When will we do the inventory?

fox dug into cage, photo G. McGraw

Nest 1 is far north of Osprey walk.  It was discovered by Ginny and Art, and by the time they found it, it had been predated by a canine or feline (fox or bobcat,) leaving eggs broken and scattered on the surface.  Gary cleaned the eggs and left them in situ, but they were predated again the next day, with the animal digging around under the cage.  So, when an egg breaks like that, bacteria can be introduced to the nest and the eggs can become contaminated, and it is possible that the nest is no longer viable.  But it is also possible that there are climatic reasons that the nest hasn’t hatched.  Many turtles began nesting earlier this year; the water in mid-May was 4 degrees warmer than usual.  But June was much cooler than average, and all across the state, nests are hatching much later than usual.  At Cape Island, the interns report that the average hatch time is more than 10 days later this year.  In fact, inventories used to be mandatory at 75 days, and DNR has now recommended that we wait until 80 days to inventory.  The third possibility is that the nest hatched on a windy or rainy night, and the hatchling tracks were not visible to the walkers who patrolled the beach that day.  If it is your day to patrol the beach, be sure to check for hatchling tracks.

How many nests do we have so far?

Date 5-12 South end near willow: False crawl- Judy  Turtle hit 3-4″ scarp turned around to return to sea.

5-12 South end around the bend False crawl 2

5-13  False crawl 3 South end around the bend, Laura, v to v 18″

5-13 False crawl 4 v to v 30″ Bubber

5-19 False crawl 5 22″ near moes boardwalk Ted

5-21 Nest 1 “Vanessa” far North End, predated by cat or fox, 10 eggs broken on top cleaned remaining eggs, left in situ

5-21 False crawl 6 Heavy wrack, low dunes 20″ found by Art

5-21 False crawl 7 Heavy wrack, low dunes 29″

5-21 False crawl 8 26″

5-24 Marshmallow Walk crawl through wrack, could not locate eggs, good body pit, placed stake.  found by Toone 22″

5-26 NeedleRush Nest 2 “Ted” left in situ– down from dunes but above recent v high tides… tides/wrack from Beryl nearly inundated but stopped before highest tide  27″

5-29 False crawl 9 Osprey Walk Jim Anderson 23″

5-29 False Crawl 10 Osprey Walk Jim Anderson 23″

6-9 False Crawl 11 27″ North end near bird signs Artus.  Turned around after hitting heavy wrack

6-10 False crawl 12 North end David Smith  Hit wrack, no dunes  27″

6-10 false crawl 13 north end David 27″ stopped at wrack

6-10 Nest #3 “Eli” found by Ginny South end, in situ 22″

6-11 False crawl 14 found by Jane 30″  North end near nest 1 Mark (guest at Wallys) saw turtle crawling back to the sea at 6:00 am.  Tracks went behind wrack, 2 possible body pits, but probably just moving through– probed, but could not find eggs.

6-11 False crawl #15 Osprey walk Carroll 30″ hit wrack, turned around, came up to orange stake for another false crawl

6-13 False crawl 16 27″: North end, Austen went into wrack, found no sand

6-13 False crawl #17 far end near channel  Austen Went into wrack 3 times, found no sand

6-14 Nest #4 “Austen” North end.  Low dunes, not far past htl so relocated 121 eggs to higher dune south of there. 25″

6-22 False crawl 18 Barbara north of osprey walk near nest 4 relocation 27″ dug proper hole, no eggs, paw prints nearby.  was she scared by bobcat?

6-23 False crawl #19 found by Peter North end near inlet stopped by wrack 23″

6-23 False crawl #20 North end Peter stopped by wrack 25″

6-28 Nest 5 Judy “Tom” South end near nest 3, right at wrack line

6-29 Nest 6 Judy “Anne” 22″ South end relocated 102 eggs to nest 6r in between two other in situ nests

7-4 False crawl 21 Osprey platform  Turtle crawled partway up beach, turned around, tracks wasting away in high tide.  No measurement

7-6 False Crawl 22 found by Barb in North 20″

7-14 Nest 7, found by Mary and James, “Helga” with eggs right in wrack line.  Relocated to near nest #1.










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