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Learning in the Field

The St. Catherines Sea Turtle program places the teacher-intern in a field environment and requires intern-pairs to function as a scientific team in a collegial, shared work assignment supervised by, but independent of the faculty members. Students arrive having had three training sessions, having read the “Handbook for Sea Turtle Interns,” and having read content information about the “Sea Turtles.” Participants arrive on the Island about 9:30 A.M. and leave for the beach ready to work at approximately 10:00 A.M.

The Handbook for St. Catherines Sea Turtle Interns details the goals and objectives of the Program, explains the protocols used in nest conservation, daily monitoring, and synthesis, and provides general guidance for our interns.

The interns immediately must begin to sort out the expectations of the daily monitoring routine as implemented within a time frame dictated by the timing and height of the high tide. They must learn the geography of St. Catherines Island as they follow the faculty through the first days’ work and are mentored in the process. When on the beach driving our transport ATV’s, the drivers must learn to drive in loose sand and navigate relative to beach markers and determine when high tide will “close their road.”

A Kawasaki Mule stopped along the eroded, scarped beach road during monitoring, South Beach, St. Catherines Island.

A John Deere Gator TS stopped at the same point on South Beach, no storm, 2006.

Daily monitoring duties include multiple tasks including finding sea turtle crawlways exiting from the sea, assessing the probability that a crawlway is a nesting crawlway or a non-nesting crawlway, validating the egg chamber if it is a sea turtle nest, screening validated egg chambers to protect them from predators, documenting each new nest in a field notebook, checking each nest to document significant changes, assessing hatching success of emerged clutches, and monitoring for “stranded” marine mammals or marine sea turtles.

South Dakota School of Mines student Maggie Hart found a rare, Sowerby’s Beaked Whale that washed ashore on St. Catherine’s Island on the coast of Georgia. At the time of her discovery on July 29, 2004. Hart, a master’s degree candidate, was working on the St. Catherine’s Island Sea Turtle Conservation Program. In her studies of sea turtles, Hart was collaborating with Mike Knell and Dr. Gale A. Bishop Their work augments studies of fossil sea turtles found in South Dakota.

A bottle nose dolphin stranded after being bitten by a shark. (Courtesy of GaDNR; Stranding 20006020)

After monitoring all the beaches and dealing with new nests and strandings, interns return to the Scientific Compound and transcribe their field notes into computerized nest data forms, bring the spreadsheets up to date, then work on other exercises and finally, perform household duties.

Ga DNR provides a blank spreadsheet on which to keep our annual nesting data. This provides a commonality of data keeping allowing data to be cobbled together for a state-wide report.

The specific processing skills we attempt to teach include observation skills, note-taking skills, mensuration skills, and critical thinking skills.

Last updated: 6/19/2015