CONSERVATION/EDUCATION: Sea Turtle Patrols
By Breanna Ondich, JIA Park Ranger
Jekyll Island is one of only two remaining islands in the state of Georgia that continues to patrol its beaches at night in search of nesting sea turtles. As an ongoing effort that first began in 1958, Jekyll’s beaches have been visited by hundreds of spectacular sea turtle moms, each with their own secret story – a story that could never be told without the tired eyes of sea turtle patrollers driving along the shoreline for almost 1,000 nighttime hours each and every summer.
Meet loggerhead sea turtle “Pudge!” Named for her excellent body condition and extra turtleneck rolls, this hefty lady was first tagged on Jekyll Island in 1997. She has been back to nest in 2007, 2010, and 2013, laying a total of 18 nests. So far this year, she has been seen five times and is responsible for nest number 20, which you can follow the progress of by participating in our Nest Trackers program.
Instantly a favorite every year we see her, Pudge is a famous sand dune mountain climber and always heads straight for the highest and driest spot to find the perfect place to lay her precious eggs. Laying a nest too low below the sand dunes puts incubating eggs at risk of becoming washed over by high spring tides, as too much water will cause the developing embryos inside to drown. Pudge always puts a smile on our faces when she begins to return to sea, as we watch her slide headfirst down some pretty steep slopes. As for her babies, they are always in for the ride of their lives as they slide and tumble downhill within their first few moments of crawling.
Each turtle we find is unique and offers a tiny glimpse into her mysterious life. Your best chance for meeting turtles like Pudge is to participate in our extremely popular Ride with Patrol. The Jekyll Island Foundation and its donors are the main reason we have vehicles to patrol in today. Without the vehicles, our nesting sea turtle research and education would simply not exist. When you donate, know that you are directly helping us learn about and share the history of individual turtles like Pudge, which we hope will help to light a passion in others about sea turtles, good environmental stewardship, and conservation.