Here at the Research Department of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center we work with numbers on a daily basis. Numbers rule our lives and direct our conservation efforts. We look at the number of times sea turtles nested on Jekyll, how many eggs those turtles laid, and the number of hatchlings they produced. We analyze how many turtles we encountered, how many were new to us, and how many were old timers. Here are some of the cooler numbers from the 2012 nesting season on Jekyll:
With Nest 1 on May 4th, the 2012 sea turtle nesting season was officially underway for Jekyll. Once those mama turtles started laying their eggs they did not look back. So neither did we.
Not even halfway through the nesting season and before the start of the official hurricane season on July 1, Jekyll had already been impacted by two tropical storms. Having the fortune of being on night patrol during both events, I can tell you that Tropical Storms Beryl and Debby brought with them plenty of wind and a hefty dose of rain.
Between Tropical Storm Beryl and extremely high tides in early June, we lost nine nests. With the peak of hurricane season lasting through September this number could still increase, but we hope it won’t.
The main goal of running night patrols on Jekyll Island is to conduct what we call saturation tagging. The aim of the saturation tagging project is to give all of the turtles that we encounter tags if they do not already have them. We use two forms of tags – flipper and PIT. The metal flipper tags are placed in each front flipper of the turtle and can be easily seen by looking at the flipper. However, they can fall out as the turtle goes about its normal activities. PIT tags are the solution to this problem. PIT tags are small microchips that get implanted in the shoulder of the sea turtle and remain there for the rest of the animal’s life. Each tag has a code unique to the turtle and can be detected using a PIT tag scanner.
When we encounter a sea turtle without either of these tags and no scars from old flipper tags, we consider her to be a “new” turtle (new to us, anyway). The scientific term we use for these turtles is “neophyte”. This year on Jekyll we encountered 39 neophytes that we hope will keep coming back to nest in the future!
While some areas of the beach have a higher density of nests than others, it is not very common for us to see two turtles nest within eyesight of each other at the same time. But it does happen every so often, as was the case on June 24. Our patrol team and a Turtle Walk group were gathered near a turtle that was covering her nest. As we stood there, another turtle was spotted emerging from the water in the same location. Our patrollers and the Turtle Walk group watched in anticipation. The first turtle that had been covering her nest started to return to the ocean as the second turtle was still crawling up the beach. The two turtles came so close to each other that they rubbed shoulders as they passed. The second turtle continued her ascent to the dunes, where she laid 100 eggs just 8.5 feet from where the first turtle had nested. We affectionately call these the “Twin Nests”, and they were given the nest numbers 123 and 124. After two months of the eggs incubating in the ground, hatchlings emerged from both nests with great success!
As mentioned above, we always try to make sure each turtle has two flipper tags and a PIT tag so that we can identify her if we or another project ever see her again. The turtle with the flipper tag numbers UUF190 and UUF191 holds a special spot in our hearts. Twelve times this year she came out of the water, crawled up the beach, decided she did not like the location, and returned to the water without laying eggs. But her persistence did lead her to lay four nests. With a total of 16 emergences, the entire patrol team got to see this memorable turtle.
Mama loggerheads formed an army of nesters this year in the state of Georgia. Multiple islands broke records for the total number of nests that were laid and the state as a whole broke its record from last year with 2,208 nests as of August 27. Jekyll Island had its second-highest year on record with 197 nests – this is just seven nests shy of our all time high of 204 nests (from 2003).
As of August 27, 100 of Jekyll’s nests had hatched. That makes 8,172 hatchlings that have dug their way up through the sand, crawled down the beach, and made it safely into the ocean! This number will keep rising as nests continue to hatch through October.
These are the most interesting numbers from the 2012 nesting season, save for two very important numbers. Between both Night and Dawn Patrols this year, we have spent more than 1,150 hours on the beach. With an average of two people on Dawn Patrol every day and four people on Night Patrol, that comes out to over 3,700 man-hours spent patrolling the sandy shores of Jekyll. This season would not have been possible without all the help the Research Team received from other departments at the GSTC, Jekyll Island Authority, and our many dedicated interns and volunteers. Thank you to everyone who came out with us on a Night or Dawn Patrol! Whether it was one shift or many shifts, we appreciate all of your support!
AmeriCorps Research Member