We are a little more than halfway through the first month of the sea turtle nesting season and we have five nests on the Cape Romano Complex. Interns, staff, and volunteers complete daily surveys looking for sea turtle tracks and record corresponding data. All nests are recorded, marked, and caged in order to prevent predation by raccoons.
This year we have started an Adopt-A-Nest program to help support the sea turtle monitoring on the Cape Romano Complex. All money donated goes towards supporting an intern and supplies including materials to cage the nests and gas for the boat.
Those who adopt a nest will receive a turtle tag with their name attached to the cage, details on the nest location, results after hatching, and an invitation to the Adopt-A-Nest appreciation party in October.
If you see a nest along the Cape Romano Complex with a turtle tag like this, now you know what it is all about! If you or anyone you know would like to adopt a nest, click here.
Or stop by the Environmental Learning Center to fill out the form and make your donation today! We appreciate all your support!
Sarah Norris, Sea Turtle Intern
The first day of turtle patrol on the Cape Romano Complex was celebrated with a nest on the south end of Dickman's Island! Volunteers Linda Detzel, Brian McLaren and I attempted to locate the clutch in order to protect it with the wire cage. This is done by digging in the sand based on looking at the way the sea turtle crawled on and off the beach. The clutch must be located in order to properly center the wire cage over top and not disturb the eggs. Placing the wire cage in the ground protects it from predators such as raccoons.
This particular lady loggerhead had outsmarted us and we were unable to locate the clutch. In this situation the nest area is flagged in order for us to keep an eye on for any depredation, or hatch later on.
Greg Curry, also known as the turtle whisper, arrived back at the Goodland field station at the same time. Always curious about not verified nests, he wanted to take a look. The two of us headed back out on the water to take another look at the nest. He lived up to his name of the turtle whisper and was able to locate the clutch, which we were then able to successfully cage!
This was an exciting way to kick off the nesting season and we can only hope for no storms in order to have a successful year!
With the heavy winds coming from the Gulf of Mexico and high tides due to the full moon, we were unable to make it out to do turtle patrol for nearly a week! When we were finally able to safely make it out to the islands and assess the situation, we found nests that had washed out or were heavily inundated.
There were 38 nests that were washed away and of the 49 remaining nests, 26 were inundated over multiple days. There were a few nests that did not wash out, but had the opposite happen, accretion of sand on the nests. This means that sand has been pushed up onto the beach, covering turtle nests. In one particular case, the entire metal cage has been completely buried, as seen here in the picture. All that was visible were the multicolor zip ties and the top of the yellow sea turtle sign. With the nesting part of turtle season complete, we will spend the next couple of months observing and evaluating all remaining nests.
On a positive note, nests that were not as heavily affected by this storm system should hatch successfully!
Through her internship with NOAA, Anna Windle is researching and protecting the nests of loggerhead sea turtles and working every day in the natural beauty of a remarkable estuary.
There's a moment, on an island off the Gulf Coast of Florida, when the soft white sand under Anna Windle's carefully digging hands suddenly sinks a little. That moment always catches her breath, because she knows she's about to see a small wonder: a loggerhead sea turtle's nest.
"There's an air pocket where the egg chamber is, so then you dig just a little more, and you see the eggs," she says. "It's always fun to be the one to dig."
Through her summer internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Windle is spending 10 weeks at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a pristine, 110,000-acre habitat of mangrove forest and lagoons, canals, and creeks of the Ten Thousand Islands. Open water habitats comprise 70,000 acres, and this is where Windle—an environmental science major with minors in biology and anthropology—is spending most of her time. She's been living on Goodland at the reserve's field station, traveling by boat each day to remote areas like Cape Romano to conduct research.
Article from Washington College, July 2015
While on turtle patrol we see all sorts of really neat wildlife. Here are a few of our favorite encounters so far.
When heading out to patrol Cape Romano, we take the back water out of Goodland until we reach Helen Key where we pick up the channel that leads us to the first beach. At this same spot for a few days in a row we saw the most sharks in one place either of us had ever encountered. When first approaching we weren't sure what we were seeing. Once we got closer we realized it was a group of at least a dozen nurse sharks, each being between six and seven feet long! Later we were told that they congregate at this time of year for mating. We have spotted a couple others along our route on turtle patrol as well.
Sea turtles are not the only animals that nest during the summer. They share the beach this time of year with shore birds as well. These include skimmers, terns, and plovers. There are two places along our route for turtle patrol that have nesting shorebirds. Today while walking the northern section of Kice Island we saw a baby least tern! It is important when near one of the posted bird areas to watch your step for chicks since they blend in with the sand quite easily!
Other wildlife we have seen include: manatees, dolphins, tarpon, and JUMPING stingrays. Last but not least we have even seen sea turtles come up for air at the surface of the water while driving along in the boat! This made us so happy since we only come out in the mornings and investigate what they did the night before.
In my first week of turtle patrol, we had our very first nest! The "cold front" we'd had in the days prior came with west winds and large rolling waves making it difficult to survey certain sections of our route. With Monday being a perfect day on the water we were able to get to the areas that we previously could not. Jill and I found this nest on northern tip of Morgan Beach. We believe the nest was a few days old already because we only saw a short, faded out crawl track that did not reach the high tide line from the day before. We followed it and found a fluffy area right behind it, leading us to believe it was a nest. With only this to go off of we were not exactly sure where the turtle crawled up the beach. You can typically predict where the eggs are based on the in and out crawl. After a little bit of digging around I located the eggs! Success! We collected all necessary information and then put a wire cage around the clutch to deter any predators, such as raccoons. Other neat sightings this week included dolphins, manatees, and even a three foot sawfish!
Sea Turtle Intern
Rookery Bay Reserve is pleased to welcome our first sea turtle intern of the 2015 season, Sarah Norris. Sarah will be leading the Cape Romano sea turtle program and scheduling the volunteers.
Sarah graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University in May 2013 and plans to return in the fall to begin working on her Master's degree. While enrolled at FGCU she had the opportunity to work with Dr. Phil Allman and conduct nesting surveys in Ghana. She has also had sea turtle nesting internships with Mote Marine and the Conservancy of SW Florida.
We will also have another intern through the Five College Coastal & Marine Sciences NOAA Internship Program starting towards the end of May. This is a 10-week internship offered and funded through NOAA. Anna Windle will be a senior at Washington College (in Maryland) next fall and plans to continue to grad school after she graduates. She had the opportunity to spend last summer in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands for one of her college courses. She hasn't had the chance to work with sea turtles yet so she's excited to spend the summer here.
The interns will be sharing their adventures and findings as field notes and will also make a presentation at the end of the summer season.
This past week had a slow start - or no start at all. Sunday and Monday were too stormy to go out in the boats, and of course we don't patrol on Tuesdays. Needless to say, after that the activity escalated quickly; we had 7 false crawls on Wednesday, a couple of nests Thursday, and actually saw a turtle laying eggs on Friday! I missed out on that because I was GPS-ing nests on keewaydin with Jill but I can only imagine how amazing it was (although a little concerning as it happened at 10 am). Saturday we had more volunteers than usual, so of course we had no activity for them to see. But the week culminated in an amazing event: we helped release over 100 hatchlings on Marco beach Sunday night. It was absolutely spectacular, and I even got to pick a few of them up. They were so cute I almost didn't want to let them go!