COSM

Monitoring

Monitoring

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.

Beaches are accessed at beach entrances in an order dictated by tidal stage; ebb tides allow maximum time on the beach and flood tides a minimum time. Different parts of the beach are accessible only at certain tidal stages because tree “boneyards, mud banks, and inlets all constrain movement along the beach, cutting our “degrees of freedom.”

 

Beaches are monitored using low impact vehicles called ATV's. On St. Catherines Island we prefer to use the John Deere Gator TS.

Beaches are monitored using low impact vehicles called ATV’s. On St. Catherines Island we prefer to use the John Deere Gator TS.

Each beach is monitored every day by slowly driving as high along the high tide line as is possible and prudent and scanning for crawlways of sea turtles, problems at active nests, and stranded marine reptiles or mammals. Each nest is closely examined as the beach is driven and tracks, erosion, deposition, or depredation is noted sequentially on the daily monitoring page and on a monitoring list.

Once a nest has been validated and protected by our conservation methods, its data are transcribed into a data book, into a computerized database, and/or into a nest spreadsheet. The spreadsheet allows us to sort by many parameters, including location on the beach. We sort our spreadsheet by location arranging all our nests in beach location from the north end of the island to the south end of the island and print a notebook copy with nest number, latitude, and nest status followed by a series of “empty” columns, which allows us to code (i.e. Rt for raccoon tracks, Rd for raccoon dig, Ht for hog track, GC for Ghost Crab burrows, etc,) pertinent observational data for each nest as we monitor each nest daily. This builds a compact notebook format of the history of each nest, and all nests, on a daily basis.

2005_monitoring_list

A daily monitoring form can be printed from a template on most integrated word processing programs.

Monitoring lists are constructed on a spreadsheet and nests and beach points sorted by latitude, these are updated approximately every four or five days.

A nest like below could have hatchling emergence documented and also the bird tracking.

monitoring_bird-tracks

Daily monitoring activities involve examining each nest each day to confirm the nest is in place, has not been tampered with, and has neither been significantly eroded nor buried by wind or wave activity. Tracks of predators are normally recorded for each nest, as are depredation attempts on a nest. Significant events affecting the history of the nest are usually documented on the monitoring list, on the daily notes, a nest history sheet, and photographed or sketched.

This consistency of data taking allows us to rapidly discern problems as they develop and to deal with them in an expedient manner. The monitoring system deteriorates due to overloading during storm events. This critical time may dramatically affect a nest’s success by erosion, deposition, or heightened ground water levels. Even under these circumstances, the monitoring list at least provides an easy to read continual record of each nest prior to the major event.

monitoring_crawlways

Monitoring the north end of South Beach, rain spackled sand shows an “apron” of hatchling crawlways crossing the backbeach; note tidal swashed upper foreshore to right. N.B. Gator was moved above normal driving level to compose this photograph.

 

monitoring_crater

Nest [06-047a] has emerged, a significant event that is recorded on the daily monitoring sheet [E1 (45) for emergence #1 with 45 counted crawlways), the monitoring list for this date, and finally on the nest summary sheet and master spreadsheet.

Significant and seemingly insignificant nest events each affect the nest’s overall success by affecting subsequent events in each nests history; this is contingency in action; where one event affects subsequent events forming a flow of events we often call history (see Gould, 1989). This contingency, or nest history, is evaluated in a nest assessment at the end of each nests history.

Strandings

As part of the daily monitoring activities we also watch for marine mammals or marine turtles which have “stranded” on the beach. Stranded animals are usually dead and washed onto the beach by the tide, but occasionally live animals are trapped on the beach as the tide recedes. Stranded animals are reported immediately to DNR, if found alive, and pulled out of the reach of the sea, if dead.

monitoring_strandings1 monitoring_strandings2 monitoring_strandings3

While monitoring on x/xx/06 on the north end of South Beach, Gale Bishop came across a Loggerhead crawlway … a single crawlway … an indication the turtle was still on the beach! Following it into the dunes, he discovered a raccoon depredated nest [06-010] and cleaned it out to the egg clutch. The crawlway of the turtle was followed about in the dunes for 635 feet, until it led to an exhausted female … lost far from the sea! This live stranding was radioed in and SCIF personnel responded, carrying the turtle back to the beach where she crawled into the sea.

Strandings are summarized on a modified GaDNR Stranding Form that has been designed to fit in our loose-leaf notebooks (we use a Mead 5-Star Personal Planner with a zipper closure and numerous pockets).

Wild Nests

Once nests begin to emerge, we also watch for wild nests, nests that were missed in daily monitoring activities at the time of deposition. A nest is easily missed if tides are exceptionally high at night so there are very short crawlways, if the turtle went over wrack or grass to nest behind the dune, or if inclement weather occurs after nesting masking crawlways and the covering pit. Wild nests are normally identified by the presence of hatchling crawlways and/or an emergence crater where there is no marked nest. They are documented in the notebook and immediately assessed, then matched on the spreadsheet, if possible, to “non-nesting” crawlways recorded approximately 60 days prior to emergence.

wild_nest_06-118w

A wild nest [06-118w] with emergence crater and numerous hatchling crawlways appeared on the south end of South Beach in 2006. This nests was deposited on a depositional terrace that normally would have washed out before hatching.

wild_nest_tunnels_06-120

A wild nest [06-120w] on the north end of South Beach at McQueens Inlet had a series of emergence tunnels indicating hatchlings encountered a wrack mat as they stopped their way to the surface.

Last updated: 12/19/2014

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