Sea Turtle Management: An Overview of the Island Turtle Team Volunteer Project PhotoDocumentary by Rachel Teller
Each year thousands of volunteers help sea turtles by helping with management projects that range from nest protection, to relocation, to public education. Photo by Arla Jessen
Photo by Arla Jessen The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources issues permits and trains people who wish to participate in a management project. Permits are required to manipulate nests and eggs, but not to help by other means (ie. patrolling the beach for tracks).
Photo by Arla Jessen Photo by Rachel Teller Loyal volunteers look for tracks on the beach at dawn every morning, rain or shine, on foot or by ATV or other four-wheel drive vehicle.
If they see tracks, they have to decide if the crawl resulted in a nest, or if no nest was laid, which is sometimes called a false crawl. Photo by Rachel Teller
Photo by Arla Jessen If there is a nest, volunteers have to decide whether it should be left in situ (in its original place) or if it needs be moved to increase chances of embryo and hatchling survival.
Volunteers study field signs, clues such as broken vegetation and the pattern of thrown sand, around the spot she dug up (the body pit). Photo from SCDNR
Photo by Arla Jessen They locate the nest cavity by probing the area because sand over the chamber gives. Eggs can be found a few inches below the surface, so this is a very delicate process.
Photo by Arla Jessen • A nest is always left in situ if it was laid… • above the high tide line • on the seaward side of the dunes • in an area with little erosion
Photo by Arla Jessen As a last resort, a nest can be relocated. If this is necessary, the eggs are uncovered by handbecause one broken egg can result in contamination of the entire nest.
Photo by Rachel Teller Turtle eggs are pliable, unlike bird eggs, so they’re not damaged when laid. Eggs must be moved within 12 hours of being laid, without being rotated, to reduce chances of movement-induced mortality.
Photo by Arla Jessen The alternative site should be close to the original, above the high tide line, not in dense vegetation, and away from areas with a lot of erosion and light pollution. Volunteers in this area often use an Atlantic cockle shell to dig out the new pear-shaped nest cavity.
Some areas are permitted to use a hatchery to incubate the eggs. This hatchery was built to protect the nests from erosion and raccoons. Photo by Rachel Teller
Photo by Arla Jessen These volunteers used goggles to protect their eyes from sand blowing in the strong winds during a tropical storm. Nests in danger of being washed away by an extreme high tide or storm surge, such as during a tropical storm or hurricane, can be moved any time during incubation.
Photo by Arla Jessen Nests are monitored throughout the incubation period. Before the hatchlings are expected to emerge, screens and cages are removed and potential obstacles are cleared. This photo shows a screen placed behind the nest to reduce hatchling disorientation that may occur naturally or from light pollution.
Photo by Barb Bergwerf If they notice any tracks leading away from the water, volunteers will search for the disoriented hatchlings. About 3 days after the nest boils, volunteers conduct a nestinventory. It’s very important they wait until all hatchlings emerge naturally before the nest is excavated.
Photo by Arla Jessen Nest inventories provide information that helps wildlife officials and scientists monitor reproductive health of the local population. This photo shows a volunteer counting shells from an in situ nest to estimate how many turtles successfully hatched.
Photo by Arla Jessen Sometimes there are a few live hatchlings still in the nest chamber. These small turtles are released and, if necessary, helped to the water.
At the end of the season, volunteers submit an annual report on their management program to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
The data the volunteers gather is used to assess the effectiveness of the South Carolina loggerhead recovery plan. Photo by Barb Bergwerf As human presence increases on nesting beaches, we must ensure our actions do not negatively affect these animals.