As soon as we started our walk on Saturday, we got to witness a few straggler hatchlings emerging from a nearby nest. It was great to already have hatchling activity! As we ventured further down the beach, there were more hatchlings to witness emerging from another nest that had recently showed signs of a major emergence. This is why we wait 3-5 days to inventory a nest as the next few nights, there may be hatchlings that emerge from the nest on their own.
The following morning we documented three new nests and two false crawls and there were no new nest emergences.
It was a great night walk to wrap up the night walk programs for 2023!
On the Thursday night walk, we had a turtle emerging from the surf. We were excited that there was an adult turtle coming ashore as the new nesting activity had been slowing down. We took a look through the night vision monoculars only to discover that once she crawled up and hit the wrack line, she decided to turn around and false crawl.
We got to see her closer on the crawl back to the ocean. The following morning this was the only turtle crawl documented, so we were lucky to be able to witness this turtle. There were also three nests that emerged.
Blog Post By: Elaine Walters, Sea Turtle Intern
Bioluminescence is one of biology’s most magical phenomena. It can be found in a variety of organisms, with the vast majority being microscopic marine organisms called plankton. Plankton are tiny organisms that drift freely in the ocean currents. They can be plants, animals, or bacteria, and hold different properties as each; however, they all share a miniscule size and relatively low mobility. These organisms, specifically photosynthetic phytoplankton, provide much of the ocean’s primary productivity and fill a niche similar to grass.
Bioluminescence is often thought of as a tropical phenomenon; however, it can also be experienced here on Edisto Beach. If you were to go to the beach at low tide and turn your (red!) lights off you would be delighted to find tiny bluish sparks forming where the sand near the waterline is disturbed. The bioluminescence here is caused by dinoflagellates. Their numbers increase as the waters warm in the summer. This is very beneficial for the other larger organisms like fish, crustaceans, and even small aquatic larvae. Because of these many predators, it is probable that the dinoflagellates use their bioluminescence as a defense mechanism. This relies on the idea that there’s always a bigger fish. They make themselves highly visible so another bigger creature might come to consume their attacker.
There are a great many other bioluminescent organisms in the ocean, especially in the deep ocean where light is even more noteworthy than it is at the surface. It can even be observed on the backs of some loggerhead sea turtles which use Edisto Beach as a nesting beach. There is much about this glowing phenomenon that is still a mystery; however, it is a fantastic sight! Next time you find yourself on the beach at night shuffle your feet in the sand and find out for yourself!
While still walking in the campground area, we spotted a couple hatchling heads barely poking through the sand. We knew it was only going to be a matter of time before we saw a nest boil! They nickname it a boil as it appears the sand is boiling with hatchlings. We wondered how long we would have to wait but it did not take too long and over 30 hatchlings emerged from the sand and made their way to the ocean. After we saw those hatchlings, another three emerged and from the looks of the photo from the morning volunteers, even more came out during the night!
The following morning there were two new nests documented and five nest emergences!
The Saturday night walk delivered turtles and not just sea turtles!
On our way to the inlet, we had a turtle ashore. She had just recently come ashore so we patiently waited while she was digging the egg chamber. We watched through the night vision monoculars before she was ready to lay eggs. We watched this turtle lay eggs, cover and return to the ocean.
On the way back, we saw a diamondback terrapin, the brackish turtle that lives in the marsh but nests on our beach. Then before getting to the office building, we saw hatchlings!
It was a busy but fun night walk! The following morning we documented the sea turtle nest that we witnessed, as 279. There were three new nests and nine false crawls documented. There were also five nest emergences. We only have one more week of night walks and are hoping for continued turtle sightings!
We were thankful that we were still able to conduct the walk portion of the program on Thursday as earlier on in the day it showed thunderstorm arriving right around 9pm. The initial radar when we went out onto the beach showed that a storm would not arrived until 1am, so we excitedly headed out, with the hopes of witnessing a nesting sea turtle.
We came across a turtle ashore not too far down the beach. This turtle was almost done covering when we saw her though and she quickly slipped into the high tide.
A little further down and all of a sudden the group reported a sea turtle emerging, right in the middle of our group. We proceeded to turn off our lights and split ways to. create a path for it to crawl ashore. Thankfully, by standing still and without any lights, the turtle continued crawling up above the high tide line.
After checking the radar and seeing the storm was set to move in around midnight, we figured it was best to let this turtle continue nesting and head back to the office building. Besides, we all got an up close encounter and saw her through the night vision monoculars. However, on the way back, when we were almost back to the building, a storm cell popped up and completely soaked us all. Thankfully, with that exciting turtle encounter we were all in great spirits!
The following morning, the dawn patrol team documented three new nests and two false crawls. The second turtle we witnessed during our program is marked as nest 271 on the state park beach!
This was our first intern-led night walk and Lilli did a great job! As soon as we finished with the indoor portion of the program, we proceeded out on the beach only to discover two nests had already emerged! As we proceeded to walk down the beach there was an adult turtle crawl but it lead to a false crawl in the dunes. We were still hopeful that we would get the chance to witness some turtle activity.
Not too much further down and there was a turtle ashore! After confirming with the night vision monocular that she was laying eggs, the group got a closer viewing experience. It was an incredible sight to watch as she finished laying the eggs, covered them back up and then returned to the ocean.
On our way back to the WIFI room, there was another turtle ashore up in the dunes. We quietly passed by near the ocean.
The following morning the team documented 4 new nests and 13 false crawls. Sadly, one of the new nests, nest 260, was entirely predated by raccoons before we arrived in the morning. The nest we witnessed during our program is marked as nest 261 on the state park beach. See below for a couple photos of the nest!
We walked half a mile down the beach and we found an incoming crawl of a loggerhead sea turtle. After determining that this turtle was already covering up her eggs, we brought the group for a closer look. We appreciate the beach goers that were watching her from a far distance without any lights. It is important to keep a distance from sea turtles if on the beach on your own, to ensure she does not get disturbed.
We watched as she finished throwing sand with her front flippers and then make the crawl back to the ocean. On the way back we checked a few nests for signs of hatchlings but there is no emergence activity yet!
The following morning we documented three nest and seven false crawls. The nest we saw on the night walk is marked as 251 on the state park beach. See photos below from our morning turtle patrol.
When we were almost at the inlet we had a turtle that was heading back to the ocean after completing a false crawl, she seemed tired after attempting two egg chambers and climbing the steep scarp. Hopefully she found another place to successfully nest.
On the way back to the park, things got eventful. We had a turtle that was emerging from the surf line. Then as we were watching her through the night vision monocular, another turtle started emerging just nearby. This turtle crawled up to the high tide line but eventually turned around. In the meantime, another turtle started to emerge behind us. We were surrounded by turtles! After the second turtle was back in the ocean, we watched as the first turtle covered her eggs and disguised her nest. There were more turtle tracks that we saw on the walk back but we quietly passed by as we made our way to the WIFI room. It was a late but fun and turtle-filled night walk!
The following morning the dawn patrol team documented 7 new nests and 8 false crawls. The nest we saw during the program is marked as 239 on the state park beach. See photos below taken during the morning turtle patrol.
We had just started our walk when we had a turtle emerging down the beach. We were hopeful she would find a good spot. Unfortunately, she ended up turning around after she crawled up to the high tide line. After we made sure she was heading back, we witnessed her as she snuck beneath the waves.
Further down the beach there was a turtle that had already come ashore, nested and left by the time we got down there. We were still keeping our turtle spirits high for our walk back and sure enough, we had a turtle that started emerging again. We watched through the night vision monoculars as she made her way up to the dunes. She proceeded to dig an egg chamber and start to lay. We witnessed her lay, cover her nest and head back to the ocean. It is such an amazing sight!
The following morning the dawn patrol team documented 8 new nests and 5 false crawls. The nest we saw on the night walk is marked as nest 226 on the state park beach. See more photos taken during the morning turtle patrol below.
Blog Post By: Elaine Walters, Sea Turtle Intern
There is something about turtles that captures the imagination and hearts of human beings. They feature prominently in the origin stories many different cultures, and they were often believed to possess mystical powers. As with many stories these often instill some kind of moral teaching or lesson for those listening to them. While the reality of these myths, legends, and proverbs may be called into question, many of the lessons still ring true today and, in many cases, our modern society might do well to listen to them.
In creation stories from North America to India, there are a great many tales of the world being built upon the back of a turtle. In the creation stories of the Potawatomi Nation of North America, it is the collaboration between all the creatures of Earth and the first human that lead to the establishment of the continent. Before there was land, there was only water and the animals. Until one day when the first woman, known as Skywoman, fell to earth. The birds flew up to break her fall and delivered her to the back of a turtle. From this point the other animals dove to help gather mud to build and island on which the new human could live, which they built around the turtle’s back. In turn, Skywoman took the seeds she had brought from her home in the sky and planted seeds on the new island, providing food to her new allies (summarized from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer). This shows how valuable it was for humans to live with the natural world, rather than to be separated from it or hold dominion over it.
We are currently facing unprecedented levels of global change, particularly in that of our climate that has been warming at alarming rates for the past few decades. There are equally alarming trends in ocean acidification, soil degradation, and extinction rates. Even the turtles, which have been the foundations of many of the world’s creation stories are facing increasing threats and population decline. As strange as this may seem, we may acquire a better understanding of how to deal with these problems from listening to these legends and stories. They may provide vital lessons on how to make our society more balanced and connected to the environment around us. The plants and animals of our world have, if not in quite so mythical of a sense, supported the growth of our species and it is now our turn to support and care for them.
After a half a mile walk down the beach, we had a sea turtle ashore! She had already finished laying her eggs and was covering up the nest. We watched as she used her dextrous back flippers to pack the sand back on top and then use the front flippers to fling sand backwards, hiding evidence of the nest. As she was covering, we noticed she had some bioluminescence on her carapace. Without any red lights, we watched as she flung sand and disturbed the bioluminescence, causing them to glow. After she successfully made it into the water, we walked back to the WIFI room, full of excitement of seeing a sea turtle!
The following morning the dawn patrol team marked this nest as 211. There was a total of 5 new nests and 3 false crawls documented. See below for a few photos taken from this morning turtle patrol.
Just a short walk down the beach and there was a turtle covering up a nest. She had already been up for a while so we got a glimpse as she headed back to the ocean. We watched as she quickly dipped below the waves. This nest was very low and it was high tide, so the turtle did not have to crawl far.
We proceeded down the beach further and there were three more turtles ashore. We waited for the first turtle to begin to lay. This turtle must have been exhausted as she began to cover but then kept taking long breaks. The other two turtles already nested and returned to the ocean and this first turtle was still covering.
We left her be and hoped she would gain the energy needed to get back to the ocean. The following morning I received a call that there was still a turtle laying eggs. I was worried it was the same turtle from last night but it was a different one that had nested right before sunrise. The turtle from the nest we saw did successfully make it back to the ocean and her nest is marked as 200! We had a total of 6 nests and 3 false crawls. See below for some pictures taken during dawn patrol.
On the Tuesday night walk, the storms had passed early on, allowing us to continue with the program. We walked to the inlet without a turtle sighting but we did get a view of the distant fireworks off of Seabrook Island. We did come across some turtle tracks on our walk but the turtle had already went back to the ocean. This turtle had attempted to dig an egg chamber twice before deciding to try another location.
On the way back to the WIFI room, we came across another set of turtle tracks. This turtle had also returned to the ocean but this one had successfully nested! She must have just come ashore shortly after we walked on by. You just never know when or where the turtles will decide to nest.
The following morning we documented 1 nest and 9 false crawls, bringing our tally to 190 nests. See below for a few pictures taken from the dawn patrol.
We had a beautiful walk to the inlet, under an almost full moon and cloudless sky. There was just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay as well. On our way to the inlet, only a shore false crawl was seen. We were hopeful on the way back that there would be a turtle ashore. We joked that the turtle was going to be in front of the white office building and sure enough, there was a turtle nearby that had just started to lay her eggs!
We witnessed this turtle lay, cover and then return to the ocean. She had some obstacles along the way. On her emergence track, she collided with a washed up log but thankfully that did not deter her. On her way back to the ocean, the turtle crawled head first into nest 2 and then squeezed between nest 10 and 42.
As we watched the turtle enter the surf, a member from the night walk group spotted another turtle emerging just down the way. We snuck off the beach through another access to avoid disturbing this turtle.
The following morning we documented 4 new nests and 5 false crawls. Sadly, the raccoons predated the entire nest 173, the one we witnessed on the night walk program. The other turtle that we saw crawling ashore as we were leaving nested too low to the tide line. We carefully relocated those eggs to higher ground and have documented it as nest 171. See below for pictures taken from the dawn patrol.
We had a short but very sweet walk on the Thursday night walk program. Only a short stroll down the beach and we had came across a turtle track. The turtle was up nice and high near the dunes. We used the night vision monocular to confirm that the turtle was laying eggs. We witnessed her lay eggs, cover and return to the ocean. It was a beautiful sight under the bright moon light. Once she went under the ocean, we continued watching and then got to see her come up for a breath of air.
The following morning we documented three new nests and three false crawls. The nest from the night walk is documented as 161 on the state park beach. See below for a few pictures taken from the patrol.
Sea Turtle Biologist