Friday, October 12, 2012

Little St. Simons Island, sea turtles

Little St. Simons Island is 10,000 acres and has 7 miles of beach.  This quiet expanse of pristine beach attracts shore birds and Sea turtles.  Sea Turtles are protected and their nests are carefully guarded.  During nesting season, there are daily beach patrols to locate signs of nesting and hatching.  Nests that are dug to close to the ocean are carefully moved to a new location higher up the beach.  The position of each egg in the nest is recorded and put back in the exact same position in the new nest, ensuring the embryo will have a chance to develop into a baby turtle.

Five days after the little turtles start to emerge the resident naturalist excavates the nest, counting the hatched and unhatched eggs.  We were able to watch two nest excavations while we were on the island.  Baby turtle tracks marked the progress of earlier hatchlings leading from the nest to the ocean.  Not all the tracks made it to the ocean, some were intercepted by Ghost Crab tracks.  Ghost Crabs, Ocypode quadrata, are the major predator of hatchlings on the beach.

In one of the nests two small, 2 inch, hatchlings were found digging their way up through the sand.  We all  watched them crawl down the beach, cheering when they finally reached the ocean.  The majority of sea turtle nests on the Georgia coast are from Loggerhead Sea Turtles, Caretta caretta.  The hatchlings we watched may spend some time in the marshes or near the coast of Georgia, but they ultimately swim out to the Sargasso Sea where they spend 7 to 12 years.  Juvenile turtles return to coastal waters where they grow and mature.  In about 35 years (2047) the females from these nests will return to dig their own nests.

While at the beach I did a sketch of a shrimp boat that was passing off shore.  Shrimp boats can be a hazard to Sea Turtles.  Turtles breathe air and if they become trapped in a shrimp net they can drowned.  After many years of research, a turtle excluder devices (T.E.D.) was developed and is now required on all shrimp nets.

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