We had a nice night walk to the inlet with just a light sprinkle, which helped to keep the bugs at bay. Thankfully the lightning stayed away so we could complete our walk as well. Unfortunately, we did not get to see any turtle activity during our program.
The following morning we found one new nest, marking 180 nests on the state park beach! We also found four nests that had emerged stealthily after our walk concluded.
See below for pictures from the morning patrol including some morning nest inventories!
We had a great night walk on Saturday as we got to witness a nest boil! The hatchlings took their sweet time and had us second guessing if they were even ready to emerge. After a long wait, they started to poke their heads out of the sand and once they were all ready, they quickly emerged from the nest and crawled towards the ocean. Initially, I thought it looked like a small boil but after looking up the information for this nest, it did really well! This was a relocated nest that only had 71 eggs, so a much smaller than average clutch size. Considering the number of hatchlings we saw, I am sure it will have a high hatch success!
The following morning there was only one nest that had emerged and no false crawls or new nests! The turtle vibes were on our side, considering we saw the only activity that occurred that night!
The other nest we saw that had hatchlings tracks, nest 21, had already previously emerged and the tracks that we were looking at were a couple days old.
See below for a couple pictures taken from the morning patrol inventories. The one nest had approximately 20 hatchlings still below!
We had one tough walk with soft sand and a very high tide but we still had an enjoyable trek to the inlet and back. Although we did not get the chance to witness a nesting turtle or emerging hatchlings, it was still fun. The following morning we found only 1 new nest, 1 false crawl and 1 nest that had emerged, so the odds of seeing turtle activity was not in our favor.
See below for pictures taken from the morning patrol. We are now up to 177 nests and 109 false crawls at Edisto Beach State Park. Thanks for your support for our turtle program!
Blog Post By: Aidan Colligan, Sea Turtle Intern
Loggerhead sea turtles reach maturity at around thirty years of age when they can lay their first clutch of eggs. It is during this time that loggerheads disperse to coastal foraging grounds to live the rest of their lives. Along our coast, they are found in waters directly offshore and in estuaries. As an adult, their diet switches to primarily hard-shelled invertebrates such as crustaceans, horseshoe crabs, whelks, mussels, and clams. They will also forage for jellyfish, squid, sponges and rarely algae throughout the rest of their life. Loggerheads usually sleep by resting on a solid surface such as the seafloor. While sleeping, less energy is used allowing the sea turtle to save oxygen and stay submerged for over 4 hours. However, they must surface for air more often when active at least once every 30-45 minutes.
During breeding season, loggerheads migrate seasonally to offshore waters adjacent to their nesting beaches. Although loggerheads do not always nest on the same beach they were born, they use the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate to the same coastline. Females will mate with multiple males prior to any nesting activity usually between March to June in South Carolina. Mating can be aggressive with males fighting and biting each other over a female. Internal egg development begins soon after and concludes with the loggerhead coming ashore to deposit the clutch of eggs. Loggerheads usually lay three to five clutches per nesting season with each new clutch taking two weeks to develop between each nesting event.
After finishing their last nest of the season, female loggerheads will not lay another nest for two to three years. This cycle will be repeated for the entirety of the loggerhead’s life. While the maximum lifespan of the loggerhead is not known for certain, it is speculated they can live to well over 80 years and possibly over 100 years old. They are capable of reproducing until at least 90 years of age, if not the entirety of their life. While the lifecycle of the loggerhead might seem repetitive to us, turtles are creatures of habit with a small instinct-based brain.
We had a successful night walk on Tuesday in seeing not one but two nests boil! When the hatchlings emerge from the nest, they nickname it a "boil" as it looks like the sand is boiling with hatchlings. We witnessed a nest closer to the campground and another further towards the inlet. The nest further to the inlet looked very successful as 100+ hatchlings made their way to the ocean.
On our walk back from the inlet, we noticed that an adult turtle had already come ashore, nested and returned! She was a quick nester, this nest was marked as nest 175 this morning.
During our morning dawn patrol, we found three new nests, two false crawls and five nests that hatched last night. See below for pictures taken from the morning patrol.
Blog Post By: Rylie, Sea Turtle Intern
It’s hard to believe we’re nearing the end of July. It has been a wild month, but I wanted to share some of the highlights with you all!
Since my last blog post, we have had some of our first nests hatch and have had the awesome opportunity to start some of our nest inventories. Our first inventory, nest 4, was an especially smelly one filled with fire ants. The staff members present were shocked and excited to find one live hatchling remaining in the nest and we released it safely into the ocean. Our other inventories have had some very successful nests, with over 100 hatched eggs!
One of my favorite moments from this summer was yesterday’s dawn patrol. Krystal and I had just gotten to nest 1 to start our inventory, when Lea and Derek came on the radio to let us know that nest 9 was boiling. Krystal and I sprinted a half mile all the way to the inlet, and got to watch the last few hatchlings emerge and make it out to the water.
If you’ve been on our beach recently, you may have seen some very large roped off areas of disturbed sand. Our volunteers have been stumped to find these several times on our dawn patrols, and spent hours probing these massive pits for eggs. The mystery was solved on our turtle walk, when we finally witnessed the responsible turtle. After seeing her first few crawls, we were suspicious that she may have a flipper injury. We were surprised to find that her flippers were in near perfect condition, she just has a lot of trouble digging. She simultaneously digs and covers at the same time, filling in her own egg chamber - a possible sign of some neurological damage. We’ve seen her twice on turtle walks now, and I hope she can nest successfully soon!
A final thought: This has been a crazy year for so many, but there’s something comforting in watching the instinctual ritual of a female sea turtle nesting or seeing a hundred hatchlings make their trek for the ocean. No matter what is going on the world, nature carries on as it has for millions of years. The one in a thousand hatchlings that beat the odds and survive to adulthood are a true lesson in resilience that I think we can all learn from.
We did not get the chance to witness a nesting turtle or emerging hatchlings on our night walk but it sure was a beautiful evening to be walking the beach. We also got to witness the comet that is said to not be seen for another 7,000 years!
The following morning we only found two false crawls. No new nests were recorded. However, our turtle patrol had the opportunity to witness nest 9 boil! This was the nest I checked on twice, near the inlet, for signs of emergence. It is rare to get to seem them leaving early in the morning. I have included the video below for you to see! It is such an incredible sight. In total, three nests emerged and the hatchlings made their way to the ocean. Good luck little ones!
We had a very short walk to see not one but two adult loggerhead sea turtles during our night walk on Thursday. There was one turtle already ashore near the Pavilion and when our interns and participants were starting to make their way, a turtle started to emerge from the ocean. They patiently waited as the turtle crawled ashore but unfortunately she ended up returning without laying her eggs.
The good news was that the turtle near the Pavilion started to lay her eggs so we got to witness her lay, cover and then make a long crawl to the ocean. Since it was still early, we decided to walk a little further to see if we could see the full circle of life and witness a nest boil. Unfortunately, we did not get to witness any hatchlings but it was such a great opportunity to get to witness a nesting adult.
The following morning we found 4 new nests, 2 false crawls and 2 nests that had emerged. We are now at 168 nests and 97 false crawls. The nest we saw last night is marked as nest 165 on our state park beach. We had to relocate this nest as it was below the Spring high tide line. This nest had 106 eggs that we carefully moved closer towards the park. See below for pictures taken from the morning patrol!
Blog Post By: Aidan, Sea Turtle Intern
Newly hatched loggerheads swim continuously for several days upon entering the ocean. Once out of coastal waters, strong currents from the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre carry hatchlings out into the ocean in a clockwise direction. The majority of hatchlings leave the strong currents and find themselves in a little-known area called the Sargasso Sea. This unique marine ecosystem serves as habitat for North Atlantic loggerheads for up to twelve years of their lives
The Sargasso Sea is characterized by the dominance of two species of Sargassum seaweed (S. natans & S. fluitans) which live their entire lives floating in the open ocean. Large mats of vegetation are spread out in clumps throughout the Sargasso Sea making it appear like a floating forest in some parts. This ecosystem holds an incredible diversity of species including ten endemic species and many other fish and invertebrates living within sargassum. The shelter provided by sargassum makes it a suitable spot for fish to spawn and live in the earlier stages of their lives. These attributes make this area an ideal spot for loggerhead hatchlings to live unnoticed. In fact, they can hide so well, that this behavior was not even known to science until recently.
Young loggerheads have plenty of food available to them in the Sargasso Sea. During this stage of life, they are omnivorous and feast on crustaceans, mollusks, jellyfish, and vegetation. These young turtles are provided with ideal shelter in sargassum mats that allow them to remain unseen to most predators. This shelter also allows them to save energy that would be required to swim against strong currents present in the open ocean. Newer research suggests that temperature regulation is another advantage to living among sargassum. The warmth absorbed by the seaweed improves the metabolism of hatchlings allowing them to forage and grow faster.
Once juveniles have reached a sufficient size as to be unpalatable to most predators, they venture beyond the protection of the Sargasso Sea. They will then move to foraging grounds in nearshore waters where they will continue to grow until reaching maturity.
We had a nice walk under a starry sky to the inlet. We had no turtle sighting on the way there but were hopeful for one on the way back. There were many individuals walking the beach using white flashlights. Please remember that white lights are not allowed during the sea turtle season and only red lights are allowed. We talked with the individuals with white lights and were able to get a nice dark beach back for our sea turtles.
Closer to the white office building there was a turtle crawl! Upon further inspection, it was clear the turtle had already come and gone! She went way up to the dunes before turning around and heading back to sea. It was too bad we did not get the chance to see her.
In the morning, our turtle team recorded 1 new nest and 8 false crawls! Quite a busy morning. This brings us up to 155 nests on the state park beach. See below for pictures taken from the morning patrol.
Blog Post By: Aidan, Sea Turtle Intern
The life of a loggerhead sea turtle begins within an egg chamber hidden deep within the sand of nesting beaches. These nests can withstand storms, flooding, erosion, and human impacts and still prove successful. However, inundation, complete erosion, and predation of nests can result in an early end to the hatchlings lives. After a long incubation period, the embryos finally complete development and break through the eggshell using a specialized structure known as an egg tooth or caracal. This structure is shed shortly after its purpose has been fulfilled. Once outside the eggshell, hatchings can remain within the egg chamber for a few days to increase nutrient absorption from their egg yolk. This energy will be needed in the long journey that is yet to come.
On a cool, dark night, the action begins all at once. A decrease in sand temperature is used as an indicator of when the sun has set and if it is safe to emerge. Hatchings use each other to propel themselves upwards and out of the egg chamber. After peaking out of the sand to ensure the coast is clear, the dash to the ocean begins. In the utter darkness, the brightness of the ocean’s horizon is used as the main cue that tells hatchlings the correct direction to go. This was advantageous prior to the invention of artificial lights. Today, bright lights from houses, vehicles, or flashlights can misdirect hatchlings causing them to head in the opposite direction.
Even though heading to the sea during nighttime avoids the majority of predators, this does not mean hatchlings are in the clear. Nocturnal predators such as Racoons and Atlantic Ghost Crabs can pick off hatchlings on their scramble to the ocean. Hatchlings that fall behind can find themselves heading to the ocean during daylight. This exposes them to further diurnal predators such as Laughing Gulls, Crows, and Grackles. To these predators, hatchling season is a feast with an abundance of easy to catch food available to them.
One a hatchling has reached the ocean it swims against the direction of the waves to propel itself away from the shore. Out in the ocean, hatchlings are all alone and exposed to further marine predators including sharks, fish, and birds such as pelicans. This is why loggerhead hatchlings along the Atlantic coast of North America head directly away from coastal waters and into the open ocean. This area in the Central Atlantic Ocean is known as the Sargasso Sea. It is here where hatchlings will live the next stage of their life.
We has the pleasure of seeing a loggerhead sea turtle right at the beginning of our walk. Unfortunately she was having a lot of troubles nesting. She has both of her rear flippers but must have some sort of neurological problem, keeping her from nesting. She was unable to dig a chamber but instead just shuffled side to side. We were still excited to get to see a turtle ashore.
After the walk ended, I waited with this sea turtle as she was next to the Pavilion and the nearby town lights. She ended up leaving at 12:15am, so she was up trying to nest for approximately 2 hours. That poor turtle was so tired. DNR mentioned that there has been a turtle with a similar condition that has tried to nest at Bulls Island in the past. It is believed she has some sort of spinal injury.
The following morning we found three new nests and three false crawls. See below for pictures taken from the morning turtle patrol.
Blog Post By: Rylie, Sea Turtle Intern
Hi everyone! I’m Rylie, one of the sea turtle interns here with EBSP this summer. I have really enjoyed the last 5 weeks, and I’m even more excited for the next few, because it’s almost hatching season! Hatching season is my favorite part of nesting season - it’s so rewarding to watch the hard work by both staff members and the sea turtles themselves pay off when the hatchlings make their trek to the ocean. I know the odds of catching a boil are rare, but I am hoping to see at least one because they are truly incredible to watch. Although the inventories can be smelly, I am looking forward to beginning those and seeing the hatch success of our nests.
Last summer, I worked as a Sea Turtle Intern with the Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC) in North Carolina. I gained a lot of experience working with nesting sea turtles, but every state and agency uses different methods and I’ve enjoyed learning so much with EBSP. Bald Head Island is another barrier island, and another popular nesting spot for the loggerhead sea turtle. It has been really interesting to see the differences in the landscapes, turtles, predators, and overall agency operations between BHIC and EBSP. For my BHIC internship, I was part of a team of 6 interns and we would patrol the beach every night from 9 pm to 6 am, making us effectively nocturnal! BHI is a satellite tagging beach, meaning we attempt to identify and tag every turtle that comes on to the beach. We flipper and PIT tagged each turtle if she didn’t already have them, and collected a variety of biological samples and morphometric data. Both agencies send DNA samples to UGA, which I thought was an interesting connection! Both also do Turtle Walks and Nest Adoptions - which are a great way to engage with members of the public who share our same passion. I’ve loved getting to work closely with our volunteers and get to know our visitors during our Night Walks, and I’m looking forward to the second half of the summer!
In the future, I am hoping to go to graduate school to research how sea turtles respond to human-induced environmental change, such as climate change. My two internships so far have led me to develop some potential research questions to examine through a Masters program, and I know these experiences will help me to be successful in the future. It is beyond rewarding to directly engage in sea turtle conservation in the field, and I hope my future research has an impact on sea turtle conservation as well.
It was a hot and buggy walk towards the inlet but it was worth it when we got to witness a loggerhead sea turtle nesting. This turtle had already finished laying and was in the process of covering. She must have come ashore early in the evening as it was only 10:15pm when we saw her. We watched her finish covering and took measurements of her carapace and scanned for a PIT tag. After she thought the eggs were disguised enough, she made the long journey back to the ocean. The tide had receded quite a lot since her incoming crawl so it was a tiring crawl back.
The following morning we marked the nest as 130 on our state park beach. There were two nests found in the morning. The nest we saw we left in situ as it was above the Spring high tide line but nest 129 needed to be relocated to a higher location. See below for pictures taken from the Friday morning patrol.
This morning we found another two new nests and one false crawl. We are now up to 128 nests and 61 false crawls. Both of the nests were situated below the Spring high tide line this morning so they were in need of relocating.
July is our last full month of sea turtle nesting! How many nests will we end up with this season? Time will tell!
On Tuesday evening we had a strong storm roll through around 9pm with a lot of nearby lightning. We had to unfortunately cancel the night walk. I guess the turtles enjoyed the stormy conditions because we found 6 new nests and 2 false crawls during our morning survey. See below for some pictures taken during our morning patrol!
Sea Turtle Specialist