Sea Turtle July Newsletter: IOP /Sullivans Island

2022 Season Update and What to Look for When Checking Nests

July 1, 2022 written by Mary Pringle Photos by Barbara Bergwerf,
FB: Island Turtle Team IOP and Sullivan’s Island

2022 Season Update
The end of June has in the past been the middle point in nesting for our loggerheads. We got off to a good start in May with nine nests on our two islands combined. Then in June things picked up and now our total is 37. However, toward the end of June we have seen a slow down where instead of having one to several nests a day steadily, we are seeing more false crawls and a nest every few days. This seems to be happening at other SC beaches. So we really don’t know what to expect for July which is normally a busy month. At this date we are 12 nests ahead of 2021.

Remember that patrol ends on August 15. This means you have only about 6 or 7 more times to walk the beach looking for new tracks. But we encourage you to keep checking any existing nests until all hatchlings are gone in September or October if you enjoy being on the beach early in the morning. Big thanks to all of you who clean the beach as well as taking care of nests and finding tracks.

What to Look for When Checking Nests
As you know, team members check every nest in their section every time they go.

Here are some important things to know:
GHOST CRAB HOLES: Know the difference between a crab hole and the hole hatchlings leave when they come out. Ghost crab holes are perfectly round and there is usually a pile of sand outside of it. Take a picture and text it to us and wait at the nest for possible instructions. You may be asked to gently test the depth and direction of the burrow. You may get instructions about filling it up or leaving it alone. We may put a PVC trap behind the nest if there is a persistent problem

PRE-EMERGENCE CRATER: This can look like a round salad bowl was pushed down in the sand or a circular pattern of cracks inside the triangle. This means that the hatchlings have come out of their shells but are still underground. It can take about 3 days for them to come out. If you see this, please take a picture and text it to us.

POST-EMERGENCE CRATER: If you see a shallow irregularly shaped crater with no sand piled outside of it that can mean that the hatchlings have already come out. The presence of tiny hatchling tracks 2-3” wide coming from the nest will confirm it. Or the wind or rain might have erased their tracks during the night. It is so IMPORTANT that we know the date this happens so we can set the date for the nest inventory.

HATCHLINGS ON THE BEACH: If there are hatchlings on the beach, CALL immediately and stay with them to keep predators away. We will come immediately to help.
Can you see the emergence crater and hatchling tracks?
These two pictures show the difference between a false crawl where the turtle turned around without laying eggs and a nest where she created a large body pit and threw sand after she finished laying her eggs. Of course, we need you to CALL if you see tracks from either event because we need to come and document it. The most helpful thing you can do in either case is text a photo of the spot where she turned around (as in these) so we can get an idea of which it is when we are responding.

Terns and Plovers on IOP
As you are well aware if you patrol in Wild Dunes, the SC Department of Natural Resources under the direction of Mary Catherine Martin, has two roped off sections near 48th and 51st Avenues as well as some signs at Ocean Point to protect nesting least terns and Wilson’s plovers. Since they nest right on the sand in the heat of the summer sun, they are very vulnerable to disturbance which can kill the eggs or chicks. This has worked quite well with the valuable help from Diane Troy and Laura Lovins who are Turtle Team members and also Audubon Shorebird Stewards.

This seems to be working well in spite of constant challenges from human beachgoers and their dogs. If these tiny chicks can survive until fledging time in mid July, then all of this work will have paid off. The night of the July 4th fireworks on the beach is a particular concern.

If you patrol at 21st and 23rd Avenue section, you have seen the metal cages that we are using there to see if they might be more secure than our plastic screens. They are buried beneath the surface of the sand and also held down with long plastic tent stakes to deter coyotes and other digging predators.
DBT Sampling
Some of you have been finding 6-8” diamondback terrapins on the beach. These little terrapins are not sea turtles. They are marsh turtles who live in the salt water marshes behind Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms. Sometimes the current carries them through the inlets and out into the ocean and they wash back up on the beach, usually dead.
Dr. Brian Shamblin at the University of Georgia is starting to collect a database of DNA from the shells or eggs of these terrapins just as he has collected genetics samples from our sea turtles. If you find one on the beach, please call and we will come and get a sample. We have already done this 18 times.
Small Diamondback Terrapin with 6” Shell
More Reminders
We know these things may be repetitious, but they are so important and need to be said over and over again.
1. UPDATES: Remember to keep up with the season by checking the website above. Notices are sent to you by email about nests or inventories only when they happen in your section.
2. X TRACKS: If you find turtle tracks, look to see if there are X’s drawn across them. If so, it means that they have already been documented. Old tracks might be visible for days if there is not much wind or rain.
3. NEST CHECKING: Check ALL nests in your section each time. You are looking for crab holes, ant invasions, problems with the sign and sticks, sand buildup, sand erosion, or tidal wash overs. Feel free to stuff sticks in any crab holes outside the triangle.
4. HATCHING: Otherwise known as Emergence. Starting in July you should check nests that are due for these signs that something is happening: a circular crack or indentation over the egg chamber, a large irregularly shaped crater where the hatchlings came out (different from a round crab hole) and streaky hatchling tracks only a couple of inches wide going toward the surf.