Sun, Sand, and Sea Turtle Nests
By Breanna Ondich, GSTC Research Specialist
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 turtle. All in all, the patrol team encountered 46 different sea turtle moms depositing their precious eggs beneath the earth. Jekyll Island’s grand total was 121 nests, roughly seven percent of Georgia’s 1,741 total nests. All of the nests on our beaches were deposited by Loggerhead Sea Turtles, while a few other islands had some visiting Green Sea Turtles, and one Kemp’s Ridley. Another sandy summer has gone by and ~8,200 hatchling sea turtles have crawled out to sea.
It was as long ago as 1958 that the very first loggerhead sea turtle was tagged while nesting on Jekyll Island, and we have since compiled a huge list of all of our sea turtle mothers. Of the 46 sea turtles we were able to catch this summer, we know that 22 of those were returning to Jekyll Island from a previous summer and 24 of them were untagged and were encountered by researchers for the very first time on Jekyll. If you include knowledge gained by partnering with the Northern Recovery Unit Loggerhead DNA Project (University of Georgia), loggerhead sea turtles lay an average of four nests each summer that they nest. This summer, three different turtles – “Newman,” “Dr. Shelly MacCaretta: Chelonian Ambassador to the Sea,” and “Adelaide”– went above average and tied for having the most nests on Jekyll Island in 2018 with six nests each!
Tagging sea turtles and managing nests is important, but so are our education efforts. Thanks to the generous support of the Jekyll Island Foundation and its donors, we were able to continue our very popular Ride with Patrol program, which allows up to four guests at a time to ride along with us in the utility task vehicles and get a first-hand look of what it’s like to be a sea turtle biologist. At least 182 people participated in the program this year, and we spoke to 1,570 additional people on the beach during our Turtle Walk and Sunrise Walk eco-tour programs. Twenty-two of our nests were sponsored by 48 parents in our Nest Trackers program. Beyond our regularly scheduled programs, our patrol team educated over 3,098 additional people incidentally on the beach about sea turtles and intercepted 1,198 people with white lights to hand out red cellophane to turn those lights into red turtle-friendly lights instead.
As the oldest and largest research project on Jekyll Island, none of this would be possible without the support of all of our collaborators: The Jekyll Island Authority – Georgia Sea Turtle Center, AmeriCorps, The Jekyll Island Foundation, The University of Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Thank you for another successful nesting season here on Jekyll Island!