Nest #10

4E1C92B7-E27B-4DAA-8DED-C108FA4BAB91.jpegWe are super excited to announce that as of early this morning, we are no longer in single digits! Ladies and Gentlemen, our 10th nest has been laid!

This is a super exciting milestone for us interns, not only because we are now in the double digits but also because this nest broke last year’s record of 9!

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We came up on this sweet mama at around 12:30 this morning. When we reached her, she was still trying to settle into the right spot, so we decided to give her some space for a while. After about 10 minutes, we concluded that she was in fact nesting! This turtle did have a PIT tag, suggesting that this is a returning turtle! With closer examination this morning, we discovered that this turtle was Tripley, the same mama who brought us nest 4! Us interns were greatly anticipating her return, as it takes her three times to find the best spot to nest (hence the name Tripley) and she had already false crawled twice before!

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We also had a false crawl this morning that occurred at around 3:12am. This mama tried to nest very high on the dunes which ultimately proved to be an inadequate place for her babies, forcing her to abandon the location. We were able to scan to see if she had a PIT tag, which she did! We were  able to identify this turtle as well, and it was MJ, our nest 3 turtle!! And, luckily, Intern Eliza managed to get an amazing picture of this beautiful girl right before wading into a tide pool!

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What is interesting about these two turtles is that they nested a day apart in June and now they visited Bear Island merely hours apart in July! Which could just be coincidence but we like to think that they just really enjoy the comfort of having a friend close by!

As of today, nest 1 has not hatched, but we are waiting anxiously as our 60 day mark (July 18) is quickly approaching!

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Stay tuned for nest 11 and, hopefully, the hatching of nest 1!

By: Grace Pigford

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We have Nest Nine!

We are super excited about the arrival of nest nine! This is the second time this nesting season that there have been two nests on consecutive nights! First nest three and four, and now nest eight and nine.

This sweet mama came up early morning on July 11, laying her nest right in front of the concession stand on Bear Island. Unfortunately, the interns working that night didn’t get to see her laying her eggs due to a storm coming in off the coast, but they got to see her safe return to the ocean. After seeing the rain had subsided, Intern Grace and I went to patrol the island and saw the single incoming tracks of the turtle in front of the concession stand! We were so excited! Grace has been saying all night that she “had a good feeling”. We called Interns Eliza and Estefany down to see the turtle as well.

Once we collected ourselves, I followed the tracks behind the mama. I didn’t see any movement and I didn’t see any eggs, making me think the nesting process hadn’t begun yet. We waited for a few minutes before checking again, but still no sign of eggs. Maybe five minutes after checking a second time, Eliza saw the mamma making her move back to the water. We sprang into action and were able to get the ID numbers off her flipper tags, but we did not get a PIT tag ID.

Once the measurements were collected, and mamma was back in the water, Eliza and Estefany went down the beach to check for other activity, while Grace and I stayed to dig for a possible nest. We hadn’t been digging long before I felt my finger hit something soft. I looked down and could see a white shell peeking through the sand! We finally had nest nine!

What is special about our nest nine mamma is she is a returning nester from earlier this season! Interns Jamie and Grace met this sweet girl while she was laying nest 6. Because of the flipper tags that were put on her, we were able to identify her and learned that she was named Sunny, as a tribute to one of the most gorgeous sunrises that has been seen on Bear Island!

The interns are looking forward to nest ten! With nest one due to boil, or hatch, any day now, we are all waiting on pins and needles, excited to see the hatchlings!

Thanks for keeping up with us and our turtle adventures! Stay tuned for more!

 

By: Intern Janina Millis

Nest #8

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After what seemed like an eternity, we finally have our 8th nest!!!

This sweet mama decided to come up at around 12:50 yesterday morning and break our dry spell! This visit was quite unexpected as the on and offshore storms lingering around Bear Island have made the waves and tides harsher than normal. Although we were surprised, we knew that these ladies could endure just about anything in order to ensure a successful clutch!

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When we initially arrived, we noticed a single set of tracks which signified that she was up on the beach, hopefully preparing to nest. We approached with caution, as not to disturb her; to our luck, she was just entering into her “trance,” a semi-conscious state that the turtles remain in while they are laying their nest. We were able to get all of the correct measurements and data in time in order to leave this beautiful mama alone to do what she does best.

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What is special about this turtle is the fact that she had no tags, which meant that we had a fairly young turtle on our hands. Not only that, but we also noticed that she had eerily similar mannerisms as that of the false crawl turtle that had ventured all the way past the dunes last Thursday! We believe that this turtle could very well be the same one, though there is not a way to prove this hypothesis. Jaime Wade has written an amazing article that explains the journey of this turtle in greater detail if you would like to know more!

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Though we estimated this turtle to be quite young, she covered her nest like a pro (quicker than some more experienced turtles) and safely returned to the ocean! We decided to call her Moria based on similar personality traits that exist between her and a fictitious icon that we are very entertained by. And of course, we had to snap a quick shot of her turtle butt going back into the water!

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Even though this was the only turtle activity that we had last night, we were welcomed by two gorgeous mallards heading towards the dunes in the morning! We also were greeted by a large number of morning glories which were clearly enjoying the amount of rain and humidity that we’ve had for the past few days!

Stay tuned for nest 9!!

Grace Pigford and Jaime Wade

Light Misorientation & Disorientation: How They Affect Sea Turtles

We had a very interesting experience a few nights ago that we really wanted to share and felt like it would be a great learning experience for everyone…

Early Friday morning (July 5th) at about 2 am, we found turtle tracks leading to a dune.  We did what we always do: immediately shut off the lights, turn off the truck, and give the turtle a few minutes to settle in.  But as we cut the lights, I said to Intern Eliza, “I didn’t see the turtle. Did you?”

She agreed, but we knew she had to be up there somewhere because there was only a single set of tracks leading to the dune.

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Upon investigation, it became clear that the turtle had climbed up the very tall dune and unexpectedly slid down the other side, traveling deeper into the dunes.

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When we saw her, she was digging a bit, so we figured we would give her a few minutes to decide if that’s where she wanted to nest (we could always relocate if she laid her clutch there).

When we returned a few minutes later, the turtle was no longer in sight.  We immediately turned on our red lights and began to follow the body marks of the turtle.

It appears that the turtle attempted to climb back up the dune in a few places before becoming scared, frustrated, and misoriented.

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When we found her, she was among trees, stumps, and general hurricane debris behind the first dune.

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We attempted all of the suggestions in our training: touching her flipper to get her to turn in the correct directions, using red light as a guide, using white light as a guide. No matter what we did, she kept pointing herself deeper into the dunes, toward the mainland.

At that point, we called Ranger Renee Evans, who immediately began her journey towards us to help and told us that we needed to intervene.  The reason this intervention was needed is because the turtle was headed to a point in the dunes where it would be extremely difficult to help her because vegetation and trees were too thick and her safety was in question.

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As you can see, the turtle was about to enter very dense vegetation that would have made it extremely difficult to get to her.

We used the turtles carapace to turn her toward the ocean.  Each time we turned her, we would step back, hoping that her instincts would kick in and she would be able to find the beach on her own, and each time, she would immediately start to turn back toward the mainland.

It probably took about 20+ attempts before we were able to get this turtle heading onto the beach.

We can estimate that we spent at least an hour with the turtle in the dunes.  This, combined with the time it took her to crawl up to the dune and back to the water, we estimate she spent about 3 hours on land (a process that typically takes 2 hrs at most when a successful nest is laid).

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This shows how far apart her entrance into the dune (on the left) and her exit (on the right) were. They are typically only a few feet apart.

This raised a major question: Why was the turtle so determined to move away from the beach?

We can only form a hypothesis, but based on our knowledge and the conditions of that night, we definitely feel that it was light pollution causing the issue.

You see, it was very cloudy that night and the lights from Swansboro were being reflected up into the clouds, causing an outline of the dunes and island toward the mainland.  Turtles use starlight and moonlight to help them find their way back to the water, and because there was no moon, we think she may have been mistaking the mainland light for the moon and the direction home.

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*Both of the images above are just visual representations of what the sky glow from Swansboro looks like.  These photos were taken on the beach facing the dunes and Swansboro. Keep in mind that the night of the incident, the glow was much brighter (as well as these photos don’t accurately show the intensity of the light).

Light pollution is something we can all work together to reduce.  There are several steps individuals and communities can take, as sited by the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission, U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Minimize beachfront lighting by turning off, shielding, or redirecting lights away from the beach.
  • Close blinds and drapes in oceanfront rooms at night to stop the light from reaching the beach.
  • Do not construct any type of beach campfires.
  • Never use flash photography around turtles.
  • Use turtle safe lighting (red lights: the red lights give off a very narrow portion of the visible light spectrum, which is less intrusive to nesting sea turtles and hatchlings.)

*If you don’t have a red light available, you can cover your flashlight or headlamp with red tape, a red balloon, or even a red t-shirt!  Anything that blocks and softens the light is extremely helpful!*

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Here are the two most commonly used items the interns use: red headlamps when working with the turtles and red tape to cover the trucks headlights.

The Sea Turtle Conservancy also provides these helpful tips for individuals, towns and communities.

  • Keep It Low- Low mounting height and low bulb wattage.  Flood, spot, and pole lighting are highly discouraged.
  • Keep It Shielded- Use full cut-off fixtures that direct the light down to the ground. Shield fixtures so you cannot see the bulb, lamp or glowing lens.
  • Keep It Long- Use light with long wavelengths, such as lights that are yellow, amber, or red in color.
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Here is a great visualization of the best lighting to use around homes and communities along the coast.

For more helpful types and visuals click here.

(Another great resource about light pollution in particular is Skyglow Project.)

Both disorientation and misorientation are dangerous to not only adult sea turtles, but are extremely dangerous to the hatchlings as well.

(Disorientation refers to the random movement of the turtles in no particular direction, while misorientation is the movement of the turtle towards a light source that is not the ocean.)

The female sea turtles may become misoriented (like in the example above) or may be deterred from nesting in areas with many lights, while the hatchlings will head away from the ocean by mistake (they also use the stars and moon to guide their journey and instinctively head toward the brightest areas).

As individuals, as well as together as towns and cities, we can help minimize this threat to these beautiful creatures.

Please keep this story in mind, utilize the helpful tips, and pass this information along to friends, family, and community leaders.

It truly is a life or death situation.

*Our sea turtle returned safely to the ocean.  We did not take pictures of her or other documentation because we were working to ensure her safe return to the water and did not want to stress the turtle further.  The pictures shown above were taken the following morning in daylight.

Also, I personally want to thank my teammate Eliza for sticking it out that night. It was a very physically and mentally grueling situation, but because of our persistence and teamwork, we were able to keep our precious turtle out of harms way!

By: Jaime Wade

Marine Debris on Bear Island

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When you think of a walk on the beach, what do you envision? Maybe it is the feeling of the soft sand between your toes, or the picturesque view overlooking the ocean, possibly even searching for seashells along the shoreline. But do you ever visualize the presence of trash in your imagination of taking a walk on the beach?

Most people would answer no, I mean, I would have answered no before this summer! Because who wants to think about trash when you’re imagining arguably, the most relaxing place on Earth?

There is no one to blame for the absence of trash in our interpretations of the beach, but there is someone to blame when we ask why the debris is present on the beach in the first place.

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According to an article written by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, marine debris is defined as “any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes.” This includes, but is not limited to: cigarette butts, food wrappers, and plastic bottles/bags/containers.

An interesting fact in regards to Bear Island marine debris is that currently, very few people have access to the island (aside from park workers, kayakers, and boaters). Considering the small amount of visitors present on Bear Island, the amount of trash that is found suggests that a large majority of the litter has not been generated by the people visiting the island but rather, it has entered Bear Island through the water. This was an eye-opening discovery for us interns, as this occurrence suggests that marine pollution is significantly worse than our initial thoughts of it. And we hope that this article will shed some light on the severity of marine pollution for you as well.

A common form of waste that has been found on our patrols of Bear Island is balloons. That’s right, balloons! We have found a balloon for almost every occasion; mother’s day, birthday’s, even graduations! When we release balloons, we often don’t think of where they’re going to end up. And when we leave trash, we usually don’t realize the harmful outcomes that we impose by doing so.

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So, how does marine debris impact aquatic ecosystems? Trash can be ingested by organisms that either mistake it as food or unintentionally consume it with their meal. This occurrence could cause significant problems to arise within the animal, ranging from mild irritation to threatening blockages. Organisms could also become entangled in this debris and be unable to disenthrall themselves; this could result in impaired movement or even prevent the animal from moving at all. Habitats such as coral reefs and sea grass can also be damaged by marine debris as high volumes of trash could prevent essential sunlight and minerals from reaching the habitat.

What can you do to eliminate marine debris? The Oceanic Society lists 7 ways to reduce ocean pollution!

  1. Reduce your use of single-use plastics.
  2. Recycle Properly.
  3. Participate/Organize a beach or river cleanup.
  4. Support bans put on plastics.
  5. Avoid products containing microbeads (tiny plastic particles that have become a growing source of pollution in the past few years)
  6. Spread the word.
  7. Support organizations addressing pollution.

As previously mentioned, balloons are found quite frequently on our patrols of Bear Island; considering this, I will offer some alternatives to the releasing of balloons.

  1. Bubbles: they are cheaper and better for the environment!
  2. Flying wish paper: write your wishes on this type of paper, light it on fire, and release it into the air (this type of paper can be bought on Amazon)!
  3. Plant a tree/flowers: this could serve as a symbolic and lasting memorial for a special person!

Hammocks Beach State Park is also taking a step towards eliminating pollution on Bear Island with the creation of a large trash disposal that will be placed within the park. In which we will encourage Bear Island’s visitors to pick up/dispose of any trash that they produce or discover whilst enjoying the unforgettable experiences offered by the island! More information regarding the construction/unveiling of this trash receptacle will be presented in the following weeks!

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P.S. I would like to give a shoutout to Jaime Wade for remembering to take pictures and log all of the trash that has been collected throughout the past month! It is a task that often gets overlooked while completing our daily tasks! Thanks Jaime!!

By: Grace Pigford and Jaime Wade

Nest #7

Ladies and gentlemen, we have nest 7!  SO DARN EXCITING AND UNEXPECTED!

We’ve had a few rough nights with the high tide taking up almost all of the beach.  All of the nests are safe and water free, which is a sigh of relief! But we definitely didn’t expect a turtle visit.

AND, if we are being honest, we were definitely taking bets that it would be the return of Tripley (from nest 4).

At about 4:15 this morning, we saw her!  She was already laying her eggs, so we moved quickly to gather the data on her and check all of her tags.  She picked an excellent spot for her nest, away from the intensely high tides we’ve been having.

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We even got a great shot of the turtle eggs, for those of you who have never seen any!

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The exciting thing about nest 7 is that it is our first repeat nester of the year.  Her first nest was nest 5.  As we scanned her, we recognized the metal tags and had a sneaking suspicion it was her and verified it this morning!

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The crazy thing about this turtle is that she only had 12 days in between her two nests.  It is fairly typical that it takes a bit longer, usually two or three weeks between nests.  Not knowing she was previously named, we nicknamed her “Venus,” after the goddess of fertility (because she is a very quick nester!) You might also hear her called “Roxanne” in posts.

BUT WAIT…there is even more interesting and unusual news:

This beauty hasn’t nested anywhere in 6 years!!!  That is HIGHLY unusual, as most turtles cycle every two to three years.

One of the craziest parts is that her nesting dates from 2013 are almost identical to this year!  In 2013, she had two nests dating 6/18/2013 and 7/3/2013.  (This year’s dates were 6/21 and 7/3.)

We are excited to see if she breaks her record this year and goes for a third nest!

One final thing we wanted to share…one of our favorite things to watch is the mama turtles as they make their way back into the water.  There little turtle butts are so darn cute.  So here is a shot of how adorable there little tales and flippers are!!!

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Stay tuned for nest 8!!!

By: Jaime Wade and Grace Pigford

Memories of the Summer Solstice

Hello to all fellow turtle lovers!

As the summer continues on, I thought it would be good to share some memories of the night on the eve of the summer solstice. The solstice landed on June 21st, marking the longest day of the year. The night before (the 20th) and those early morning hours were very exciting for us out on the island. 

That evening the wind was blowing and rain looked imminent. We hunkered down in the concession stand, ready to wait out the storm, but to our surprise the storm clouds split around us, treating us to a gorgeous sunset and a faint hint of a rainbow over the sea. The tides rose that night around 10:00pm, making it impossible to drive the beach at that time. Finally at about 11:45pm we were able to drive out on the beach. We headed towards Bogue Inlet first, and were pleasantly surprised to find two false crawls that had already come and gone. We documented the false crawls and were eager to head back to the other end of the island to see if we had any other turtle visitors during high tide. Sure enough, we found one more false crawl near the end of the island at Bear Inlet, and after taking time to investigate and document decided to head back without our normal break time at the end of the island. 

Just past the concession stand as we headed back to Bogue Inlet, we spotted a turtle! She was a beauty, and although we waited to see if she would nest she decided against it and headed back out to the water. She was untagged and we were able to get her flipper tagged with a metal tag before she made it back to the water. 

The first false crawl we saw that night!

By about 1:30 we had already had four false crawls, so we decided to start patrolling more often than normal, we felt as though this was going to be a big night. We encountered another turtle about an hour later, she didn’t come up the beach very far and we were unable to get data on her, but we were thrilled to have our fifth turtle of the night!

At around 3:30am, we sighted yet again a turtle up in the dunes. We gave her a few minutes of space, and then investigated and found that she was nesting! She was beautiful and so graceful in her nesting process, Janina, Estefany and I literally jumped for joy when we knew she was dropping eggs. She was previously tagged, so we knew we probably had a returning turtle on our hands. She finished nesting and covering and returned to the sea at about 4:45am. We decided to call her Roxanne, after the infamous song by The Police, as we hear it on the radio while driving the beach often (We also thought it was clever because we always put on our red lights). 

Our nesting mama!

 

We spent the sunrise of the summer solstice digging for turtle eggs so that we could safely place the cage and sign (this was nest #5). Covered in sand and exhausted from our busy night, but absolutely brimming with joy at the experience we had all shared (this was the first nest the three of us had seen).

A triumphant sunrise with Nest #5!

It seemed as though the sea that night had a lot to offer us, maybe the turtles were moved by the summer storm over the ocean, maybe they were moved by the magic of the solstice, but whatever it was that made those turtles extra active that night gave us an experience we will never forget. 

Eliza Patterson

 

Nest 6!!!

And just like that, we are on to nest six!!!

The first time we saw this sweet mama was on Monday night. She came up about an hour before high tide and false crawled.

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We were DEVASTATED because she spent so much time digging, and we really thought she would nest. As she made her way back to the water, we took a few pictures and scanned her for a PIT tag. (There was no PIT tag, signifying she is likely new to Bear Island.)

The one thing we noticed is how sweet and patient this turtle is in demeanor.  She curiously watched us as we scanned her, and then she was off.

We were still very hopeful she would return…

Like clockwork we had another turtle appearance on Tuesday night, an hour before high tide.  After comparing barnacle patterns on the turtle’s carapace from the pictures Monday and Tuesday night, we are happy to report that the same turtle returned and successfully completed the nesting process!!!

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We were able to tag her and get DNA samples that will help us see where else she has nested.

On Tuesday morning we were blessed with one of the most beautiful sunrises we have ever seen.  Here are some of the amazing views…

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It was agreed that we would name her Sunny, in honor of the beautiful sunrise and her sweet disposition.

We will update when we learn where she has previously nested!!!

Fingers crossed for another nest soon!

On a side note, we love ALL of the turtles at Hammock’s Beach/Bear Island and wanted to share this precious little box turtle we saw in the morning!

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Until next time…

PS- A huge shout out to Intern Grace Pigford for the action shots with the Loggerhead.  Things get crazy while collecting data, but she always manages to take a moment to capture the beauty!  Thank you!!!

By: Jaime Wade and Grace Pigford

Nests #3 & #4!!!!

FINALLY!!!!!

We feel like we have been waiting forever to make this exciting announcement.  It has only been a few weeks, but it feels like forever since our first and second nests.

WE HAVE NESTS THREE AND FOUR!!!!

The first nest came in before midnight on the 16th.  We were shocked at how early in the evening it was, as most of our activity over the last few weeks has been between 2 am and 5 am.

The beach was absolutely beautiful and was completely lit up by the full moon!  We didn’t even need our headlamps for most of our time with her.

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“MJ” was a big girl!  When I reported back to intern Grace about where MJ was in her nesting, the first words I said was, “She’s a BIG girl.”  Her carapace was about 80 cm wide and 110 cm long. And oh my goodness, she was beautiful! We fell in love with her immediately!

 

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Intern Grace loves MJ!

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Intern Jaime can’t believe how beautiful she is!!!

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We are VERY excited because MJ wasn’t PIT tagged, which means she is more than likely a new nester on Bear Island.  We placed a PIT tag in her front left flipper. (A PIT tag is similar to when you have a family pet chipped.  It helps us track the turtles each year.  Once the PIT tag is in place, it only takes a quick scan for us to discover all of the important information about the turtle and its past nesting patterns.)

We cannot wait to see where this turtle has been previous to her visit on Bear Island!  We will keep you updated as soon as we find out!

The second nest came in the following day (the 17th) at a similar time and under similar conditions.

You will here this from us all the time, but WE ARE SO EXCITED ABOUT HER!  She is the first RETURN turtle we have laid our eyes on this year!  That night we named her Luna (for the full moon), but we later found out after a PIT tag was found that her previous name was Tripley!

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Tripley is a returning turtle from 2017, who famously would false crawl two times before finally nesting on the third try.  She followed this pattern several times that year!  We are anxious to see if she has ironed out the details of nesting or if she will continue her pattern of two false crawls first.

From our initial experience, she definitely seems to know what she is doing.  She was very quick to lay her eggs and get back down to the water!

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We are also super proud of both mamas because they picked amazing nesting areas!  That means their nests are safe, and we have no need to relocate their clutches!

Can’t wait to share the next nest!!!

By: Jaime Wade and Grace Pigford

6/16/19 “Minnie”

We couldn’t help but share our excitement from this morning.  Just before 5 am, we had a visit from a turtle we affectionately named “Minnie.”

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This beauty isn’t very big and seems to be a bit unsure of herself. This, coupled with the fact that she didn’t have a PIT tag or metal tag, makes us wonder if this might be her first time nesting!

Unfortunately, she false crawled.  For anyone who is unsure what this term means, it is when a female turtle comes onto the beach, she may even start digging, and then decides the conditions aren’t right and returns to the water.

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Minnie seemed frustrated by the vegetation she was in.  If you look at the picture below, you will notice a few small trees near her body pit.

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Her head and flippers kept hitting the small trees around her and eventually, she decided to give up.

This problem seems to be very common this year, and we believe it is largely because of Hurricane Florence.  There was extensive erosion to the dunes, leaving dead vegetation and trees where the sand and dunes used to be. (More to come on the changing coastline and dunes in future blogs!)  The turtles often hit roots and vegetation when digging, become frustrated, and abandon the attempt.

We have our fingers crossed that this beautiful, little lady returns soon, that she lays eggs, and that we are able to get her tagged!

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By: Jaime Wade and Grace Pigford