A rare glimpse of a nesting loggerhead sea turtle just before dawn. Photo by intern Jordan Wingate.
A sea turtle hatchling making its way to sea at dawn.
CONSERVATION/EDUCATION – Utility Task Vehicle
By Breanna Ondich, Jekyll Island Authority’s GSTC Research Specialist
Wintertime for the research team means we are reminiscing over the girls of summer (sea turtles that is). Our sand shores successfully produced over 7,800 hatchling sea turtles! The patrol team encountered 40 different sea turtle moms in 2017 depositing their precious eggs beneath the earth. Jekyll Island’s grand total was 130 nests, roughly 6% of Georgia’s 2,189 total nests. All of the nests on our beaches were deposited by loggerhead sea turtles, while a few other islands had some visiting green sea turtles, kemps ridleys, and at least one leatherback.
It was as long ago as 1958 that the very first loggerhead sea turtle was tagged on Jekyll Island. Of the 40 sea turtles we were able to catch on the beach in 2017, we know that 20 of those were returning to Jekyll Island from a previous summer, 16 new moms came to us untagged, and the last 4 were first tagged during a previous summer somewhere else in the state of Georgia. If you include knowledge gained by partnering with the Northern Recovery Unit Loggerhead DNA Project (University of Georgia), loggerhead sea turtles lay an average of 4 nests each summer that they nest. This past summer, four different turtles – “Pudge,” “Pooky,” “Mosquito,” and “Eloise” – tied for having the most nests on Jekyll Island in 2017 with 6 nests each!
Tagging sea turtles and managing their nests is important, but so are our education efforts. Thanks to the generous support of the Jekyll Island Foundation and its donors, we were able to continue our very popular Ride with Patrol program in our new Kawasaki Mule Pro, which allows up to 4 guests at a time to ride along with us in the utility task vehicles and get a first-hand look of what it’s like to be a sea turtle biologist. At least 273 people participated in the program in 2017, and we spoke to 1,193 additional people on the beach during our Turtle Walk and Sunrise Walk eco-tour programs. Thirty-nine of our nests were sponsored by 61 parents in our Nest Trackers program, a new record for one season! Beyond our regularly scheduled programs, our patrol team educated over 3,341 additional people incidentally on the beach about sea turtles. The team also intercepted 1,101 people with white lights to hand out red cellophane to turn those lights into red turtle-friendly lights instead.
As the oldest and largest research project on Jekyll Island, none of this would be possible without the support of all of our collaborators: The Jekyll Island Authority – Georgia Sea Turtle Center, AmeriCorps, The Jekyll Island Foundation, The University of Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Thank you for another successful nesting season here on Jekyll Island!
The following are resources for further information:
Georgia DNR Sea Turtle Conservation Program
A History of Sea Turtle Tagging and Monitoring on Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA
About Loggerhead Turtles
About Green Turtles
About Kemp Ridley Turtles
About Leatherback Turtles
Ride with Patrol Information
Turtle Walk Information
Nest Walk Information
Beach Lighting Information