COSM

Goals and Objectives

Conservation Goals & Objectives

The intent of the St. Catherines Sea Turtle Program is to operate an integrated program which will produce research on loggerhead sea turtle nesting, conserve loggerhead sea turtles nesting on St. Catherines Island, and to use this research and conservation effort to provide a hand-on, field experience for teacher-interns as a model of self-learning and utilization of local resources in the classroom.

 Program goals are to:

1) Better understand nesting ecology of loggerhead sea turtles on the Georgia coast.

2) Enhance production of hatchlings and determine parameters for management of sea turtle nesting on urbanized sea islands.

3) Involve school teachers and pre-service education majors in active conservation and management activities in order to:

4) Teach alternative methods of scientific inquiry, scientific methodology, scientific documentation and processing skills,

5) Provide a suite of classroom teaching resources, and

6) Build a regional citizen advocacy group for conservation of sea turtles and other endangered species.

7) To transfer these data into the geological record in order to identify sea turtle nests in ancient sedimentary rocks.

In order to attain these goals, we have set specific objectives to use as action items in implementation of the program. Many of the specific objectives of sea turtle conservation are mandated by The Georgia Department of Natural Resources through their program of protection of threatened and endangered species and their partial sponsorship of this program in the Index Beach Program.

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Historically, from 1988 to 2005, sea turtle nests on St. Catherines Island were protected by placing a 4 x 2 inch mesh galvanized steel screen 3 x 4 ft over the egg chamber and tacking it down with four 2 ft steel rebars, then marking is position with a 4 ft, 1 x 1 in painted wooden stake.

Program objectives are to :

1) Monitor beaches on a daily basis to locate new nests; validate by digging; and document each.

Beaches are monitored daily from May 15 until the last nest has emerged on or about September 30. Twenty kilometers of beach are slowly driven on an ATV as soon after sunrise as is possible. Driving is done on wet sand and the position of nesting shorebirds is respected.

2) Cover and mark all nests within a few hours of their deposition.

By monitoring early in the morning, most new nests are found and dealt with before 10:30 most days. Clutches are located and relocated, if necessary, within 12 hours of their deposition.

3) Assess potential success of each nest site and move low probability nests.

Relocation management criteria have been established for the Island and areas with historically low potential have been identified. An annual Rapid Habitat Analysis is performed to follow longitudinal changes in habitat hatching potential. Nests deposited in areas with low probability of success are relocated to areas with higher probability and placed in new, egg chambers dug with a post-hole digger; then covered and marked as in situ nests.

4) Survey the position of each nest to within a meter.

Non-nesting crawlways and new nests are located with GPS to within a three meter circle of precision and plotted daily on a GaDNR spreadsheet, on a Nest Monitoring List, and daily effort is recorded as time spent monitoring and percentage of beach monitored. Interesting nests are measured, sketched, and photographed and documented in a loose-leaf notebook with pages produced as a daily template.

Stranded sea turtles and marine mammals are observed, documented, and reported to GaDNR.

5) Monitor, document, and control predation of sea turtle nests.

Each nest is covered with a 2″ plastic mesh, 2 ft. by 3 ft., held in place by sand over the screen. A 1 in. square, sharpened stake 4 ft. long is painted day-glow color on top, the nest number is written on all four faces with a permanent marker, and the stake is driven in immediately behind the egg chamber at the back of the plastic screen. The position of the center of the egg chamber is marked with a piece of wrack while the screen and stake are being placed.

Each nest is checked daily and notes of observations are made sequentially during each day’s monitoring. Events at each nest are coded to keep track of depredation attempts, tracking over the screen by animals, and erosional or depositional events.

Depredation is closely monitored and kept below 15% of total eggs. Successful attempts are answered with trapping of raccoons, shooting of marauding hogs, and digging of Ghost Crabs. As our raccoons become more knowledgeable we eventually resort to placing wire cages above nests in active areas as we attempt to trap the perpetrators.

6) Assess hatching success for each nest by post-emergence digging.

Three to five days after the last emergence nests are excavated by hand, digging vertically downward to the egg mass and separated into unhatched and hatched eggs. Hatched eggs shells are counted into sets of 10; only whole egg shells, or egg shells representing 50% or more of an egg, are counted (50% rule of GaDNR). The unhatched eggs are checked for viability by holding and gently squeezing to feel for movement. Data are recorded in the notebook, entered onto the spreadsheet and monitoring list as counted. Numbers are then resolved on St. Catherines counts to reflect real numbers of eggs and hatchlings into the sea.

Egg shells and bad eggs are accumulated into an egg bucket and buried on the Island well away from the beaches. Empty egg chambers are backfilled with sand and often recovered with the screen to allow odors to dissipate and surface disturbance to disappear. Screens are then removed and placed into storage or reused for new nests. Stakes are left in place until most nests have been assessed.

7) Patrol daily for beached sea turtles or dolphins; document same; and bury for skeletal recovery.

Stranded live animals are immediately reported to GaDNR to await their response and kept wet and as comfortable as is possible. Dead stranded animals are documented (location, species, size, injury, photographed) then marked with paint (so they won’t be counted again) and pulled off the beach. Fresh dead animals are necropsied and may be buried in the sand dunes to recover osteological materials for museums (this requires a Federal and State permit).

8) Develop a management plan for nests deposited on St. Catherines’ beaches.

The management plan for St. Catherines Island’s sea turtle nests involves the daily Index Beach Monitoring mandated by Federal and State regulations, relocation of nests that are at risk of inundation or erosion, treatment of all nests in a manner as close to “natural” as is feasible, treatment of all nesting female turtles as close to historical norms as is possible (we leave the beaches to turtles from dusk to dawn), and maximization of hatchling production.

Last updated: 12/19/2014

Sea Turtle Program at St. Catherines Island • (912) 478-1744 • jgaskin@georgiasouthern.edu