31 July 2008

Calle Hermosa Hatchlings!

When I arrived at the Calle Hermosa nest this evening, it was clearly time for hatchlings! The opening under this sign is the nest 'coning'. From the beach, you could even see a little loggerhead poking his head up through the sand.

The hatchlings emerged after dark, so there are no photos of them from last night, though there are quite a few from this morning! DJ, The Barrier Island Girl, waited with us for most of the evening as well. After sitting with the nest with about 20 guests for hours, we set 82 little loggerheads free in the Gulf of Mexico. By dawn, three more where in the Gulf.

I left the nest around 6am, and the nest seemed fine. Within thirty minutes, one of our turtle volunteers called on her morning patrol to let us know there was a ghost crab in the nest!

Monica and I decided to go out and take the remaining eggs and hatchlings early, relocating the entire nest to a cooler.

About a dozen little ones will be ready to go after sunset this evening. A single ghost crab could have destroyed the rest of the pipped and hatched eggs in the nest, and that is not cool!

Still Nesting

I've been bad about posting lately. Perhaps it's the 18 hour days trying to keep up with hatching nests, egg-laying adults and a little paperwork...

It's so good to see the turtles here this summer! I can't believe the difference since last summer!

I know this is a different turtle from the last weird eggs -- it's just long enough between nests. What's going on with our adults? I wish we had the staff and time to do more night patrols so we could see if either of these nesting adults are .in need of a little TLC.

28 July 2008

Loco Boomerang the Loggerhead... YYN 568

Loco the loggerhead has earned a new name -- Boomerang -- since he keeps swimming back to the beach.

The little TED turtle has been taken even farther offshore, ten miles south of Pensacola Pass. Hopefully, he'll learn to feed and grow on his own there. If not, we'll likely take him for continued training at the Galveston NMFS lab.

Amanda and her colleagues at the Gulfarium worked hard to keep their distance from the turtle and help him adjust to life without humans. They fed him live food, while trying to stay out of sight.

We each took a turn saying goodbye, again. Sally looked happy to see him go!

Even the Coast Guard crew, lead by Petty Officer Donovan, each took a turn with Loco Boomerang. He seemed to behave much better for them -- I wonder why?

If Loco/Boomerang is a female, we do hope to see her in 20 years as a nesting adult... Otherwise, I hope the turtle grows large and strong out there on the deep sea currents.

26 July 2008

VIPs (That's Volunteers in Parks)

Every now and then, I do take photos of people, or they take them of me. With so many busy volunteers this time of year, it's inevitable. We couldn't do half the things we do for the turtles without them.

A nice group at the local EPA office are very interested in nest sitting for some of the 40 nests due to hatch. With about 40,000 tiny turtles expected in the next two months, we'll need all the help we can get. It will be hard to keep them all safe from sea gulls, raccoons, ghost crabs and other predators with just our small NPS staff.

I think we have a good group here -- these busy scientists were willing to give up their lunch hour just to learn about nest sitting. I hope to see many of them on the beaches soon!

Of course, we couldn't get anything accomplished without the help of our team of 20 volunteers who complete daily surveys of all of our Gulf front beach, searching for new nests and tiny turtle tracks. Their hours of hard work and unwavering dedication are just amazing!

Our tiny turtles thank them...

one and all...

25 July 2008

Strange Eggs

I've been working with nesting sea turtles for about 15 years, and I must say this is the strangest nest I've ever seen. I really wish I'd seen the nesting adult -- she may have an injury or illness that lead to these unusual eggs. The smaller, "spacer", eggs in here aren't so unusual, but they're not very common in a loggerhead nest.

This one didn't have a shell or a yolk. Just plain odd. It was just an opaque white jelly with sand on it.

I've been calling this the "Snowman". Can you see why?

This one reminds me of the symbol for infinity.

What would you call this one?

A ghost crab had invaded the nest by the time Cinnamon located it on the morning of July 24 (this is nest SR7241). S/he'd left behind this sliced egg that wasn't placed in the relocated nest as it may lead to mold and mildew growth in addition to attracting ants and other predators.

I hope the nest will do well it's new location.

Isn't the dune I moved it to just gorgeous?

Two Endangered Species, Just Hanging Out

Ok, so technically, loggerheads are still threatened, but there is current petition working it's way through the official channels to change their status to endangered. That's not a good thing, and a result of a steady decline...

I had to assess three sea turtle nests over the last day or so, and there were stragglers in each nest which yolk sacs still attached. Until they absorb all their yolk and the remnants drop off, they'll live in a cooler. They can't swim away from predators very well if they still have to drag their yolk sac through the water... It's a little like a baby's umbilical cord, except this is a reptile, not a mammal.

I keep each nest in a separate cooler in case of bacterial growth or other contamination, but I had to take advantage of the unique opportunity to get a photo of a Kemp's (Lepidochelys kempi) next to a loggerhead (Caretta caretta). What differences are evident to you?

You can see an egg in this image as well. The Kemp's ridley nest seemed to have viable eggs, even 96 hours after the first hatchling emerged. Common convention is to assess a hatched nest after 72 to 96 hours with the assumption that they are finished hatching. I didn't want to take a chance on this critically endangered species though by opening eggs that still looked viable. Kemp's are not supposed to nest here, and it may be a little cool for them. Maybe that, combined with all the rain over Blue Angels weekend, has slowed down some of the hatching. Maybe the shallower eggs, incubating in warmer temperatures, hatched first. It's so hard to know what we don't yet know about sea turtles -- it's a new science, and we change our management behaviors as we learn more about them.

With such low hatchling survival, I don't want to be responsible for the loss of a single animal. The eggs looks a little gray, but they've been about 10 inches under the sand for two months, so that's to be expected!

See that dark little belly? Typical Kemp's... Isn't s/he adorable?

22 July 2008

Loggerhead and Kemp's Hatchlings!!!

I'm so tired that I barely have words, but I had to post these... I haven't edited them at all yet, so they're a little rough. I'll work on them after I've had a little sleep.

A few of these little loggerheads (Caretta caretta) were waiting for me when I arrived at Perdido Key late yesterday evening.

Unfortunately, the tracks make it look as if some might have crawled the wrong way before I arrived. I tried to follow the tracks a bit, but had to screen all three nests (two Kemp's and a loggerhead) before the light completely faded.

I'm glad I did -- 34 little loggerhead later emerged, and I did find two loggerheads and two Kemp's (Lepidochelys kempi) wandering in the dunes as I was first placing the restraining screens over the three nests expected to hatch last night.

You can see by the light in the Kemp's photo that it was getting a little late to take pictures without a flash, but it's a necessity with any sea turtles -- no flash photography allowed, even for a turtle girl.

It's so rewarding to see them hit the water! It makes all the long hours, mosquitoes and hot weather worth it!

Just look at him/her reach for the sea!

And that tiny crawl... How cute is that? As adults, that crawl may be over three feet wide. Now, it's about an inch... OK, I admit it, I'm a turtle geek, but you already knew that, didn't you?

21 July 2008

ATV Theft

Those of you who live in the Pensacola Beach area may know we patrol four separate sections of beach searching for sea turtle nests, hatching nests or disoriented hatchlings and adults. As each stretch is about 7 miles, we patrol on ATV. Disoriented adults and hatchlings can die from exposure, predation or other means if we can't get to them in a timely manner. We can ill afford to lose a single animal in this critical population...

One of our ATVs, a green 2006 Honda, was stolen from our storage POD in the Park East lot sometime Sunday afternoon/night or very early Monday morning. Since we patrol starting at about 0530, it would have been VERY early.

The ATV looks a lot like the one above, with a "Q" sticker near the gas tank. If you see it, or know anything about it, please call Gulf Breeze dispatch. This is an important tool in our efforts to protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles that grace our shores. Please help us continue to help these graceful creatures in their struggle for survival.

This theft represents a $5000 loss for the National Park Service, and for the sea turtles. Who could do something so heartless?

Thanks for your help!

18 July 2008

36 Nests....

Cathy Holmes called early this morning with her third nest this season... That makes 36 -- three times last years total, and we're still counting.

This short and lovely loggerhead crawl pointed us towards the eggs.

The eggs were a little close to the surf, but we were advised to leave them in place as we've moved a lot of nests this season. It's a hard choice to make, but we have to maintain a balance. Sea turtles, and their eggs, play important roles in the ecosystem that we don't completely understand yet.

As long as the tropical weather stays away, the little loggerheads should appear in about two months. Can't wait to see the little guys!

17 July 2008

Look Who's Back

I received a call from Law Enforcement Ranger, Melissa, about a turtle on the beach. Melissa was trying to keep the turtle safe until I got there to take a look at it.

You'll never guess who it was...

Loco looked a little apologetic as I examined s/him to be sure that no ocean meanies had been nibbling on the small loggerhead.

I handed him to the concerned beach visitor who had called the park while I got some of my 'turtle stuff' together. Loco seemed to wave away the paparazzi.

Several beach combers, kayakers, surfers and fishermen have reported seeing the little loggerhead.

I'm happy to report the turtle looks healthy and happy! We're hopeful the turtle will continue to learn, grow and thrive.

Thanks for keeping an eye out for s/him -- I know this turtle has touched everyone who has met s/him, and that's the best sea turtle advocate we could ever have. We should start to see lots of the wee ones within the week!

International Coastal Clean-Up!

The 2008 Coastal Clean-Up on Santa Rosa Island was a great success, but we can work together to make everyday a Coastal Clean-up Day... Help us keep our beaches beautiful!

For details on the 2009 coastal clean-up efforts in Pensacola or in your area, or other ways you can help, click here.

Hello World!

Hello World!
Which way to the sea?