Blog Post By: Dalton Moore, Sea Turtle Intern
Hello, my name is Dalton Moore! I am a sea turtle intern for the summer here at Edisto Beach State Park. I am a Marine Biology major at the University of South Carolina to further my career through conservational biology or research. Edisto has always been like a second home to me, so I was very ecstatic to receive the opportunity to do something so unique in such a familiar place!
When you typically hear “’ Tis the Season,” it is usually a holiday reference. But I am here to provide another way of celebration. THE SEA TURTLES ARE BACK! Here on Edisto Island, we predominantly see Loggerhead Sea Turtles allocate nests along the shorelines near estuaries. The Loggerhead turtles are known to use the earth’s magnetic fields for nesting within 40-50 miles of where they were initially hatchlings. The season for nesting began in early May and will continue until September. Numerous female sea turtles will push themselves onto the beach. Typically, beginning to create a hole between the high tide line and the dune front that is approximately 18-24 inches deep. However, this is not always the case. Some may lay their nest below the tidal line and become washed over. Either way, the female turtle will then presume to deposit an average of 100 eggs. After her egg chamber is laid, she will then cover the eggs with sand using her flippers in an attempt to erase the signs of her nest. She will then return to the ocean but return 3-5 more times that season to a similar location to lay more nests.
As a member of the Turtle Patrol, I work with my fellow interns and our coordinator Leah to help identify and document the nest. Within our first two weeks, we have already established 23 nests and 13 false crawls. 20 of the 23 were successfully laid and registered as in situ nests, which means the nest was not removed. However, 3 of the 23 were relocated in an attempt to avoid erosion of the nest from tidal waves. It was essential to move the eggs carefully one by one to prevent disturbance and rotation of the egg, which could disturb the developmental stage of the sea turtle. Overall, the beginning of the season has been tremendous and suggests that we may have a busier season compared to the previous season, where the first nest in Edisto Beach was not documented until May 15th, 2021. I am beyond excited to work with my fellow staff to provide exponential success with nesting turtles and, eventually, hatchlings!
My name is Dalton Moore. I am a rising senior at the University of South Carolina. I am majoring in Marine Science in attempt to further my career through conservational biology and/or research. My hobbies include anything related to the outdoors whether it be going to the beach, golfing, hiking, etc. I have always lived near Edisto Island and with every chance I had, came to visit the beautiful coastal area. I look forward to working with the other interns to provide help and knowledge to this wonderful internship opportunity.
Hi, my name is Christine Segnari (she/her)! I am studying Wildlife Conservation and Water Systems & Sustainability at Virginia Tech. In the future, I want to work with marine life in tagging, research, and rehabilitation. In my spare time, I enjoy reading or watching Netflix.
Hi, my name is Sarah! I’m from Lawrenceville, GA. I’m a rising senior at the College of Charleston, where I am majoring in Marine Biology and minoring in Environmental and Sustainability Studies! I also volunteer at the South Carolina Aquarium as a Conservation Assistant. In my free time, I enjoy reading, learning calligraphy, and practicing photography. I fell in love with sea turtles during a school field trip to Jekyll Island in seventh grade, and I am so excited to be working with and learning more about them this summer!
The turtles have been keeping us busy! We are already at nest 10 on Edisto Beach State Park. Last season we did not find our first nest until May 15th, so we are well ahead of schedule with our nest count. Did the season just start earlier this year or will it be another big season? Stay tuned to find out!
Our interns have begun turtle training and will be introduced on the blog soon! They will be writing blog posts to share as well, either on a topic that fascinates them or their personal experiences. We are so thankful for their help and are excited for them to get to experience our Edisto turtles!
We are very excited to share that the first nest at Edisto Beach State Park has been found on May 7th! Along with the first nest, two false crawls were documented. A false crawl can be natural, where the sea turtle did not find the right spot to nest, but it can also be due to human disturbance. Be sure to keep a distance of 20ft if you happen upon a sea turtle and keep all lights out (unless the color red). Thank you for helping us to keep a safe place for the sea turtles to nest!
What are your guesses for the total season count?! Will it be another record year? Time will tell. So stay tuned to the blog to find out!
Our popular sea turtle night walk program will run every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in June and July, beginning June 7th. Our reservation system has moved online this year. To learn more about the night walk program and to register, please visit: https://southcarolinaparks.com/products/10002569
When out for a walk on Edisto Beach State Park, you may come across one of these posts. These posts are to mark our buried temperature loggers. This season we have buried six temperature loggers along our 1.5 mile stretch of beach. If you scroll a few posts down, you will come across more information on why temperature is important and how it can influence the sea turtle hatchlings.
We are excited to begin collecting sand temperature data this season and are looking forward to learning more!
We are hosting a beach clean-up on Earth Day, Friday April 22nd. We will meet up at the white office building in the day-use area of our park. It will be a great way to celebrate Earth Day and help to create a squeaky clean beach before the arrival of our sea turtles.
We will begin around 9am and you can pick up as much or as little as you would like!
Looking forward to seeing you then!
We are happy to share that the shorebird fencing was installed today. It runs for roughly half a mile down the beach to Jeremy's Inlet. Last season we had several Wilson's Plovers and Least Terns nest successfully. These species are also considered threatened, as their population is lower then it should be.
Just a reminder that if you are visiting the beach, to stay out of this roped off area and to keep your dogs on a leash, as even a friendly and good behaving dog can frighten the shorebirds. These birds are highly susceptible to disturbance and will choose to leave and nest elsewhere if they deem the area unsuitable.
Thank you for caring for the other species that nest on the beach!
Do you know the difference between shorebirds and seabirds?
Diet - They have different diets. Shorebirds prefer to feed on invertebrates found in the soil, whereas seabirds feed on fish
Nesting - Shorebirds are solitary nesters, whereas seabirds prefer to nest in colonies
Defense - Shorebirds use camouflage and distraction to protect the nest, whereas seabirds defend nests by dive bombing, calling loudly, etc.
The Wilson's Plover is a shorebird and the Least Tern is a seabird.
This past Tuesday, we received a call to the Environmental Learning Center about a possible sea turtle in distress. The lady that called it in spotted it on the town beach side and noticed the turtle could be seen at the surface for over an hour but it was 60 yards offshore.
I grabbed my binoculars to see if I could get a better look. Well it was not just one sea turtle but two! It was mating loggerhead sea turtles. They continued drifting down the beach until they were in front of the state park campground. Another hour passed until they finally departed under the sea.
This is a rare sight from the beach and we were lucky to have our Assistant Interpreter, Brandi, out and ready with her telephoto lens to capture it!
With this sight, we sure are hoping for a busy nesting season. It is less than a month away now until our daily patrols begin!
This past week was a week of informative and inspiring turtles talks! I had the opportunity to attend the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) conference and then attended the International Sea Turtle Symposium (ISTS). It was a week filled with new sea turtle research and initiatives being done around the world.
The ISTS was held virtually from Australia. Next year it is hopefully to be held in-person again in Cartagena, Colombia. It was nice to still be able to connect virtually but a trip to Cartagena next year sounds appealing! I think travelling is on everyone's mind now that things are starting to feel normal again.
I am feeling very inspired and motivated as we get closer and closer to the beginning of our nesting season!
Hello fellow turtle enthusiasts and blog readers!
I am excited to share that I am back for the 2022 nesting season at Edisto Beach State Park. This will be my 7th year leading the program as the Sea Turtle Specialist and my 10th year since my first sea turtle internship (which was here at the park!). I am looking forward to getting things organized for the upcoming nesting season. Will it be another record year? Here's hoping!
Over the next month, I will be sorting supplies, working on new projects, prepping for our upcoming nest adoptions, attending sea turtle conferences, installing shorebird fencing and so much more! It will be a busy month and then May will be here before we know it. We are looking forward to interviewing and hiring our summer interns. Stay tuned to the blog to follow along for our 2022 sea turtle nesting season!
If you are reading this, it means you have seen one of the labelled posts on Edisto Beach State Park! Thanks for scanning the QR code to learn more about it! This post is used as a marker for one of the buried temperature data loggers. Prior to the start of the 2022 Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtle nesting season, we installed sand temperature loggers in randomized locations along our 1.5-mile stretch of beach. We chose locations just above the Spring high tide line and locations closer to the dunes, where sea turtle nesting is most likely to occur. These temperature loggers will provide helpful insight into the temperatures that the incubating loggerhead sea turtle eggs will experience this season.
Why is sand temperature important? Sea turtles, like most reptiles, have temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). It has been determined that the warmer the sand during incubation, the more likely female hatchlings will be produced and the cooler the sand during incubation, the more likely male hatchlings will be produced. This pivotal temperature is approximately 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit) (Mrosovsky 1988). The most influential temperature on the sex determination process occurs during the middle third of incubation (Ackerman 1997). Loggerhead sea turtle incubation times can range from 45-70 days. The temperature the eggs experience during incubation will also influence developmental times, hatchling fitness and hatching and emergence success (Fisher et al. 2014).
There are many other factors aside from sand temperature that can influence sea turtle hatchlings. Accumulated precipitation and humidity are considered to be the other climatic forces on the hatchling success (Montero et al. 2018). Although the temperature readings alone will not give a complete representation, beginning the collection of this data may assist future and greater-scale research projects in the state of South Carolina.
Ackerman, R. A., (1997). The nest environment and the embryonic development of sea turtles. In: The Biology of Sea Turtles (eds Lutz PL, Musick JA), pp. 83–106. CRC Press, Boca Raton.
Fisher, L. R., Godfrey, M. H., & Owens, D. W., (2014). Incubation Temperature Effects on Hatchling Performance in the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta Caretta). PLoS One,9 (12), e114880. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114880
Montero, N., Ceriani, S. A., Graham, K., & Fuentes, M. M. P. B., (2018). Influences of the Local Climate on Loggerhead Hatchling Production in North Florida: Implications From Climate Change. Front. Mar. Sci. 5:262. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2018.00262
Mrosovsky, N. (1988). Pivotal temperatures for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) from northern and southern nesting beaches. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 66: 661-669. https://doi.org/10.1139/z88-098
Welcome to our new and improved YouTube channel! Miss Murtle and I are working on creating more fun educational content to share. We plan to upload a new video for every Turtle Tuesday! This videos will be fun educational talks, showcase our travels and the various permitted work out on the beach.
Be sure to subscribe to our channel to follow along and learn more about sea turtles!
Thank you to our wonderful summer interns for another successful season! Thank you to our educational interns, Haley and Stefani and our sea turtle interns, Ashlyn, Karoline and Chase. You all greatly benefited our program and were such a pleasure to work with. We wish you the best and look forward to seeing what you get up to!
Check out the hit song of the 2021 summer, "Lightsss" by Miss Murtle and her friends (aka our awesome summer interns). Check it out below and feel free to share!
Blog Post By: Ashlyn, Sea Turtle Intern
This season, countless campers, vacationers, volunteers, and friends of the turtle patrol have gotten to witness the miracles of both mature loggerhead sea turtles emerging onto land to nest and hatchlings emerging from the sand to make their first crawl back to the ocean. It is the process we don’t necessarily get a chance to witness, however, that is the most miraculous of all in my sight. In those 45-60 days of incubation, in between the time a clutch of eggs is laid and the baby turtles hatch, that embryonic development occurs. That clutch of eggs goes from shell and yolk to a fully formed turtle in less than two months. That in itself is something to marvel over! But what exactly is occurring in that short period of time?
The embryonic development of sea turtles can be broken into 31 unique and complex stages! These 31 stages, however, can be categorized into five overall developmental processes.
1. Fertilization—Gastrulation—Early Neurulation
After fertilization has occurred, the zygote forms a blastocyst, a multilayered cluster of cells. Reorganization of this cell cluster occurs quickly, as cells move along a central line termed the primitive streak, folding to form three primary dermal layers: the endoderm, ectoderm, and mesoderm. Neurulation initiates in this early stage of development, as cells fold to prepare for the head and spinal cord development.
The neural tube, the precursor of the spinal cord region develops at this stage. The head, brain, heart, and blood vessels begin to develop. Specialized precursor cells called somites begin to form clusters. These somites will eventually differentiate into important structures within the body such as muscles, skin, cartilage, and vertebrae.
The embryonic cell layers become more complex during this stage, giving rise to tissues and organs.
4. Early Growth
All the major bodily organs and systems continue to grow and develop. The limbs, ribs, carapace develop.
5. Late growth—Hatching
Growth of the organs and systems comes to completion as the developed sea turtle prepares to hatch from the chamber and emerge onto the beach. In this final embryonic development stage, pigmentation completes and the remaining nutritional yolk decreases.
I can discover and mark a sea turtle nest in May and watch the hatchlings emerge in July. But digging deeper, understanding the mechanism for developmental transformation, allows me to gain an even greater appreciation for the circle of life that I have been a witness to all summer long. Perhaps science and miracles go hand in hand.
We had our first nest inventory program on Wednesday August 4th and it was a huge success! We had a large crowd close to 200 individuals that we were able to spread out so everyone could see us. We inventoried two nests to determine the nest success. These nests had emerged four days prior. We then counted the hatched eggs, unhatched eggs and on occasions also find live hatchlings. We rooted for one tired looking hatchling as it made it's way into the ocean.
Then on our way back to the office building for one last inventory, we had nest 72 about to emerge! We did not have to wait long and over a hundred hatchlings emerged and made their mad dash to the ocean!
We finished the program with one more nest inventory! I was continually asked how often that happens where we also get to witness a nest emerge...and that is a first! I definitely cannot promise any future programs to have this many hatchlings seen but you never know what you may see on one of our programs!
Check out below for more information on our nest inventory programs.
Our last night walk of the season was a success! We witnessed 4 straggler hatchlings emerge from nest 53 as soon as we walked out onto the beach. Then we had 1 straggler found in nest 49. We continued our walk towards the inlet with the hopes of witnessing an adult nesting. There were no adults found but we did witness a full nest emerge with possible over a hundred hatchlings making their way to the ocean!
Our night walks have come to an end this season! We are grateful for the help of our interns and volunteers who have helped to make them happen. I also want to thank all of our participants for their passion for sea turtles and our program!
The following morning we found one new nest and for nests that had emerged! See below for pictures taken during the dawn patrol.
Our Thursday night walk was a success! We witnessed nest 58 "boil" when the hatchlings emerged all together and headed to the ocean! We walked towards the inlet with the hopes of seeing a nesting adult but unfortunately none were found. There was another nest that was ready to emerge but it was already 12am. A few of our groups witnessed this nest emerge and the rest took the long walk back to the WIFI room, excited to have seen hatchlings.
The following morning, we found that 5 nests emerged! No new adult crawls were found.
Blog Post By: Ashlyn, Sea Turtle Intern
Before you ask—no, I wasn’t scheduled for dawn patrol that morning. And by that morning, I think you know that I am talking about the morning that a hatchling loggerhead sea turtle with two heads was discovered here at Edisto Beach State Park. Ask the rest of the turtle team—Leah, Chase, or Karoline—who were all on patrol that morning, about their firsthand account. All I know is that my alarm clock that early morning was a stream of text messages of pictures of this turtle marvel, rather than my typical ringing sound.
At first glance of those pictures that flooded my message inbox that morning, my mind sparked with curiosity at this turtle anomaly. How often does the presence of two heads in a single individual occur? Is this common among reptile hatchlings?
The head is one of the most complex structures of the body, derived from three primary dermal layers and specialized neural crest cells. The development of the head region of the body during embryogenesis is quite complex, involving hundreds of genes interacting to regulation the proliferation, migration, and differentiation of cells. Within all of these regulatory processes, there is susceptibility to dysregulation, as is to be suspected.
In fact, the highest reported mutations in green, loggerhead and, olive ridley sea turtles are craniofacial malformations. The development of brain, cranium, and facial region are interconnected and complex, as the signaling pathways during development have extremely complex regulators and growth factors.
Among marine reptiles, sea turtles in particular have a history of reported bicephaly, or the presence of two heads in a single individual. Bicephaly is an umbrella term, describing developmental alterations such as the duplication of head structures, incomplete splitting of zygotes (conjoined twins), or terminal bifucation of the notochord while neurulation is taking place. Research suggests that sea turtles with this condition have an extremely short life expectancy, only hours or days. The rarity of observing this phenomenon has limited our scientific understanding of potential causes of the presence of two heads. It is believed, however, that a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental causes may all play a role.
More research regarding bicephaly in reptiles has been focused on snakes, as the most reported malformation in wild and captive snakes is indeed the presence of two heads. While still a relatively new direction in the field, preliminary research suggests incubation temperatures, inbreeding depression, hybridization, chemical toxins, and environmental pollution all are associated with snake bicephaly.
In short, no—no I did not witness the two headed turtle that has been circulating the news this week firsthand. But yes—yes I did marvel and research and marvel yet again at the wonderful anomaly that crawled on our beach.
We are in our final week of night walks for this season! We were a little wary about our walk portion of the night walk as a thunderstorm was in Beaufort and it appeared it may decide to make its way towards Edisto. We kept an eye on the weather as we started the walk with the hopes of seeing a turtle before any lightning drove us off the beach. We made our way towards the inlet and then turned around without a sighting yet. It did appear a few nests had already had hatchlings emerge prior to our walk.
On the way back to the WIFI room, a turtle was spotted emerging from the ocean. Unfortunately, lightning had become too close to stay out on the beach, so we quietly passed by the turtle and took a detour through the campground.
The following morning our dawn patrol team found three new nests and five nests that had signs of emergence! The turtle we saw was nest 196 on our state park beach. See below for a few more photos.
We had a wonderful night walk on Saturday, with the hopes of seeing a nest emerge or a turtle come ashore to nest! Unfortunately, we did not get to see any turtle activity during our program. There had been a couple nests that had already emerged prior to us walking. It is always a guessing game as to when they will decide to make their mad dash to the ocean. The following morning there were no new nests or false crawls but the interns and volunteers found that 5 nests emerged!
We had an exciting start to our night walk program on Thursday! One of the nests showed possible signs of emergence, so we brought the night walk group onto the beach as soon as they arrived. We did not have to wait too long and the sand started to "boil" with emerging hatchlings. They successfully made their way across the beach and into the ocean as we cheered them on.
After the hatchlings successfully made it into the water, we went back to the WIFI room for the presentation. Following the presentation, we proceeded to walk the beach in the hopes of seeing a nesting adult sea turtle. Unfortunately no other turtle activity was found but it was a beautiful walk under a bright moon!
The following morning our turtle patrol found that three nests showed signs of emergence and no adult tracks or nests were found!
We had an adventurous night walk on Tuesday with a downpour on the walk back to the office and one turtle seen! On our way back from the inlet, Ashlyn came across some campers who witnessed an emerging turtle. The campers did the right thing by keeping a distance and staying still in the dark. Unfortunately this turtle did not find a place to nest and ended up completing a false crawl. The night walk group got to witness her as she went back into the ocean. She had an old injury to her carapace and her rear flipper, so perhaps that was part of her problem in successfully nesting.
The following morning we found 1 new nest and 1 false crawl. We also completed an inventory and found the most unusual find of all, a two-headed hatchling! See below for pictures taken during the patrol.
Blog Post By: Chase, Sea Turtle Intern
Our sea turtles’ threats are mostly easy to spot - raccoons, beach erosion, and artificial lights, just to name a few, can all be simply observed by anyone. One of the most dangerous threats affecting the future of our sea turtles, however, is one that we find a little bit harder to spot on a walk down our beach: Earth’s changing climate.
The Earth’s climate is changing - that’s a fact. Regardless of how it is happening, however, we have to adapt to it, and so do our sea turtles. As much fun as some warm weather sounds for our cold-blooded friends, the coming changes are especially challenging for our marine life.
Rising temperatures pose a threat for our sea turtles before they are even born. As you may know, sea turtles’ sex is determined by their temperature as the eggs reach about ¾ of the way through incubation. Warmer temperatures produce females, and cooler temperatures produce males (“hot chicks and cool dudes,” if you will). Even though we only ever see nesting females, male sea turtles are still very integral to keeping up with sea turtle populations. So, as temperatures rise and nests warm up, more females will be produced than males. In nesting areas like Florida and Australia, scientists are finding that hatchlings are overwhelmingly female, up to 99% of hatchlings on some beaches.
Without males, even further population decline is inevitable.
Almost more alarming is that for some beaches, nests are getting so much hotter that hatchlings just don’t hatch. Although an overly-female population is alarming, the annual decline in hatch rates is an immediate threat. Published estimates have found that populations will continue to decline by about seven percent per year due to rising temperatures. Boca Raton’s nests used to have an average hatch rate of 78-81 percent, until 2015, when temperatures increased further and hatch rate dropped to 54 percent. In 2016, that hatch rate dropped further to 42 percent.
Increases in temperature mean a lot more than just warmer air, though. Carbon dioxide, one of the “greenhouse gases” contributing to climate change, is naturally absorbed from the atmosphere into the oceans. Climate change is the main cause of coral reef destruction all over the world, and the coral bleaching associated with rising CO2 levels in the main cause of death. Coral reefs serve not only as habitats for many species of sea turtles, but also as ecosystems for their food to grow. Reefs serve global coastlines as well by slowing waves and protecting them from erosion, ensuring that sea turtles’ nesting habitats stay in place.
Along with our coral reefs, coastlines are disappearing at faster-than-normal rates. As the oceans rise, good nesting ground for our sea turtles is covered in water. As well as covering the coasts, rising oceans also pull more sand and sediment away, eroding the beachfront faster than before. Climate change has also very likely increased the severity of tropical cyclones in recent years, helping to further wash away our beaches, and taking sea turtles’ nesting zones with them.
No matter how you want to see it, things are changing. Our turtles are in trouble, too, and we are trying to adapt to help them. Turtle teams in Florida are testing shading and water-cooling methods for nests to combat the effects of rising temperatures on sea turtle eggs. Scientists are working on breeding corals that can resist bleaching and heating in order to survive and grow. Many hope to counteract the side effects of climate change while its roots are being addressed, to give nature time to adapt.
A global problem requires a global solution, and everyone’s effort adds together. Our sea turtles need our help, and we’re doing everything we can. Just understanding the problem is a great beginning to solving it.
Sea Turtle Specialist