Turtle Patrol on St George Island by Barbara Edwards

The turtle patrol goes out at dawn. Not a bad time to hit the white sand beach. I checked my alarm clock several times during the night. I didn’t want to oversleep and miss this opportunity. Not everyone can go on patrol, but I’m a volunteer on St George Island State Park and allowed.

The birds fly low over the water and the sand as our four-wheel drive gator crosses the beach. We need to stay close to the water’s edge so the tide wipes away the tracks, but at times the trash left by inconsiderate tourists has us crossing close to the dunes. Another duty for the volunteers is keeping the area clean.

Loggerhead turtle tracks

The turtle expert is explaining to me what to look for, but I’m too excited to listen. She’s attended hours of class and been certified to hunt and mark turtle nests.

We’ll be checking over nine miles of beach for the turtles. The first tracks we find circle erratically, not normal unless the turtle is disturbed. Then we find someone’s sandle prints and  paw-prints from a large dog. Someone took his dog for a walk after dark where he’s not allowed and it harassed the Loggerhead Turtle.

We still need to check for eggs. A nest can contain from one to one hundred and fifty

looking for predator tracks

eggs. Maybe it didn’t lay, but if it did the nest needs to be covered with screen to thwart predators and posted with warnings.

We kneel in the sand and poke our hands into the sand. It is hard a couple inches down if it’s undisturbed. A soft place indicates the turtle dug down to deposit eggs. And there is a distinct odor from the turtle’s body fluids. After searching for an hour, we write-up a report that we didn’t find eggs, then the hunter notices a dead weed and swarming flies. Determined to be sure, she digs again. She finds the

finding the eggs

nest underneath and carefully shows me the golf-ball sized eggs. I am thrilled.

We cover the nest and move on.  Another track crosses to the dunes. An experienced ranger claims that nests in the dunes indicate a rough hurricane season ahead. The turtles instinctively shelter their eggs.

The second nest is covered and marked and we continue down the beach. Last year there were forty nine nests on this section of St George Island beach. This year we’ve found a Green Turtle nest along with the Loggerheads.

Verifying the eggs are there

I spot a shell and stop to pick it up. A sunray is pretty and a keeper.

We don’t go shelling since it’s not allowed with a gator, but the trip itself has been an adventure.

I told my guide I’d love to do it again. Maybe after the fifty-five to seventy days it takes for the baby turtles to hatch.

Marked nest

Watching the tiny turtles head for the open water under the moon must be worth staying up all night.

Visit my website at http://www. barbaraedwards.net

St George Island beach

 

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Author: Barbara Edwards

Riveting Romance with an Edge

5 thoughts on “Turtle Patrol on St George Island by Barbara Edwards”

  1. While I can see how you may feel ‘privileged’ to be able to do this, I find it kind of frustrating when you broadly call tourists ‘inconsiderate’. Now as we all know, the tourists may be the ones causing the most trouble, however I find it saddening that there is no patrol at night to keep these tourists from shining their lights and looking for these baby turtles. I also notice this blog is goin on over 2 years old, but this issue is still obviously relevant and this was my first trip to the island. But in the last half an hour I have seen multiple groups of people out on the beach with their bright smartphone flashlights on looking for nests, while nobody tries to stop them. What is that about? The ‘Turtle Patrol’ should be out stopping these people, not marking their nests in such an obvious way it simply leads tourists right to the nest. Only then could I say I felt ‘privileged’ to be a part of that group.

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    1. The patrol is volunteers. And the nests aren’t marked, they are covered with wire to protect the eggs from predators. The wire needs to be marked so it can be removed after the eggs hatch.

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  2. We will be staying on St. George the week of July 7 thru 14 for the 17th year. We have had the pleasure of witnessing a hatch15 years ago and a female laying 3 years ago. The nieces and nephews are at an age to become enthusiasts who protect the turtles. Please contact me so that I can give the children the opportunity to witness a miraculous event if possible. I would love to be allowed to tag along. Ann

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  3. What a fun experience, I love turtles! I once saw a leather back laying her eggs and it was an amazing experience, although I got exhausted just watching her. I was also supposed to volunteer on turtle patrol in Costa Rica for a week but then the road got washed out so I wasn’t able to.

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