Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A look at a day on the beach... (Autumn reports)

We arrive at the beach just before the sun comes over the horizon...

Volunteers blocked with sunscreen and floppy hats start out their morning survey with a beautiful sunrise saying good morning...

A lurking predator has been here already...
These could belong to the night heron who likes to snack on baby turtles :-(

The night heron is on the lookout for baby turtles and knows they will soon be hatching...

Volunteers come across the tracks to assess the species and determine if the momma turtles nested or not.  These tracks belong to a loggerhead turtle...

Stay tuned for more pictures to come...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2010 (Debbie Reports)

This morning 2 of the new volunteers who are training with me every Tues., called in to say they couldn't make it.  Maybe the showers in the southern part of the county scared them back to bed, but we had no rain at all on Singer Island.  Even if it rains, the turtle survey must be completed each day.

Erica, my other new trainee and I were surprised to meet up with Jayce at Ocean Mall on our way out to the beach.  She is a trained volunteer who is a flight attendant and fills in for my people who are on vacation when she is needed.

Walking out of the southern pathway at Ocean Mall, I spotted 5 loggerhead hatchling tracks in the sand.  This is a sign that a nest has hatched and the hatchlings have turned west away from the water towards the artificial light.  We call this a disorientation.  Walking north we checked the beach and the staked nests for the location of the hatch.  More and more hatchling tracks were found, until we came upon a nest laid on 5/14 right in front of the southern lifeguard stand that had hatched.  All the tracks that came out of the nest site went directly west and away from the water.  No tracks went the short distance of about 10 feet into the water.  I guestimated that there were at least 50 loggerhead hatchlings that were disoriented. 

When we have a disorientation, we fill out the disorientation report, documenting the location and movements of this event.  The tracks we see in the sand give us the information that is needed to fill out the form.  Sadly, we found one dead hatchling not far from the nest site.  It looked like a bird had pecked it and it had been bleeding.  I buried it deep into the sand in a different location away from the nest.  We didn't find any of the disoriented turtles though.  Some did eventually turn to the water on their own, but most may have been picked up by other people out on the beach at night,  and placed into the ocean where they belong. 

As we continued walking north, another hatched and disoriented nest became apparent.  This nest, also laid on 5/14,  showed the hatchling tracks going to the brightest area, which happened to be the 2700 building, just on the north side of Ocean Mall.  Skyglow is a big problem, difficult to correct, but the other problem we face and that can be fixed, is the interior lighting coming onto the beach from inside the tall condos and hotels.  It is so important during this time of year, for people living on the ocean to keep their curtains, blinds, and shades closed from 9 PM until sunrise.   We hope those people living on the ocean, will turn off lights inside their units and try to help minimize the artificial lighting impact on the hatchlings.  That would be fantastic~!!!!!

Those hatched nests from today will be excavated by trained and permitted volunteers from The Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island in 72 hours.  This will give us more information about the number of hatchlings that went the wrong way and did not head to the sea.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012 (Debbie reports)

After completing our morning nesting survey on South Singer Inland we were ready to excavate two hatched nests in order to record the hatching sucess of those nests.

The first nest, a leatherback named Jody, who nested on April 24th, was spotted by one of the biologists from the Juno Marinelife Center on that date.  All night the biologists drive from the Jupiter Inlet to the Palm Beach Inlet hoping to encounter nesting leatherbacks.  Once one is spotted,  they check for pit tags on the flippers of the turtle.  From those numbers, much information about that individual turtle can be found in their data banks.  For example: what date she was first encountered, what her name is, what years she returned, how many times this season she has been found nesting, and more.  The leatherback sea turtle is the largest turtle in the world and can grow to be 2,000 lbs.  It swims the farthest, dives the deepest, can take the coldest waters, and loves to eat Jellyfish. This is also the only species of sea turtle with a smooth carapace (shell) that feels something like an eggplant.  (All the other species have a hard carapace.) The Sea Turtle Conservation League's Logo shows the leatherback.  A very impressive turtle~!  (For more information about the Leatherback study you can go to:

Jody's nest hatched on July 2nd.  After waiting the required 72 hours to do our excavation, (which allows most of the hatchlings to emerge and make their run to the water), we were ready to dig~!
We had a large entourage of tourists and locals eager to see what we were doing.  This is the best time for my volunteers to educate the public about the sea turtles plight. 

First, we push back the dry sand and then begin our decent down into the egg chamber, which is hidden deep in the sand.  The heat of the sand is what incubates the eggs.  Once the mother turtle has nested she never returns to her nest and she may lay up to six nests in one summer in 9 to 10 day intervals.

This was a deep nest, about 6 ft. deep.  Half way down I felt the front flippers of a hatchling.  Sure enough, there was a little black leatherback hatchling with white longitude lines along its carapace,  still making its journey to the top of the nest site.  Then 3 more leatherback hatchlings came to the light.  Four in all~!   They were all healthy, but not ready to be released into the ocean.   Two of my volunteers, Christine and Anastasia were also helping me, by passing out our brochures and helping to answer any questions.  Anastasia also helped with the excavation.  The people were able to take photos of the hatchlings.  Seeing a leatherback hatchling is an unusual treat, because they are critically endangered. 

We counted 85 hatched shells, 4 were found alive, and 2 were found dead.  This is the only species of sea turtle that has "spacers".  They are smaller different sized yokeless eggs, which can be the size of a pea to the size of a ping pong ball.  These spacers are randomly deposited into the nest as the mother turtles lays her eggs.  The leatherbacks eggs are a little smaller than a tennis ball.  Since they are so large and are incubating so deeply in the sand, the spacers help to provide the proper environment for the eggs to develope.  We counted 62 spacers of various sizes with this nest.
This was a very successful nest.  Hopefully, one of these hatchlings will survive and return to Singer Island to nest one day.

The next nest we excavated was a Loggerhead sea turtle, named for its large head and strong jaws.  These turtles grow to be on average about 350 lbs.  Most of the nests on Singer Island are loggerhead nests.  The loggerhead is classified as threatened, one notch down from endangered.  Our loggerhead nesting numbers have been down for the past 5 yrs., but this 2012 season is looking fantastic as reported from other Permit Holders like me, from all around the state of Florida.  These turtles have a varied diet compared to the others, and will eat, clams, crustaceans, and jelly fish. 

Anastasia began to excavate this nest which was laid on May 8th and hatched on July 6th.  Just 6 in. underneath the sand she encountered 9 living loggerhead hatchlings.   The crowd was so excited and many folks made a nice smooth pathway for the little babies to follow down to the water.  It was a nice treat to show the differences between the two species.  The loggerhead hatchling is a rusty grey color and can blend very nicely into the sargassum sea weed beds that lay at least 10 miles off our shores.  This is the place the hatchlings will swim to try to encounter once they leave the beach.  There, they will find food and shelter for at least the first year of life.

As Anastasia continued down, she pulled up 11 pipped alive loggerheads.  Pipped means that the turtle has bitten open its shell and is trying to wiggle its way out.   We were able to watch two hatchlings go through the complete endeavor, until they were completely out of the shell.  These 11 hatchlings had absorbed their yolk sac, but were not quite ready to be released into the water.

The final count on this nest was:  53 hatched eggs, 9 alive, 2 dead, 3 infertile, 11 pipped alive, and 3 pipped dead. 

I took the bucket of hatchlings (4 leatherback and 11 loggerhead), up to the Juno Marinelife Center.  They hold them until they are ready to be released into the ocean.  And these are VIP hatchlings, because they are lucky enough to get a nice boatride out to the sargassum seaweed beds, where they are released.  Maybe they will meet a few of their nest-mates, who have made it on their own.  I sure do hope so.

Friday, July 6, 2012