News

October, 2018 – The End of a Great Season

The volunteers spent several days in late October ‘cleaning out’ the hatchboxes. This means that we carefully dug through the sand and removed all the hatchlings that haven’t emerged from their nests.  While it’s a bit hard to see, the photo below shows some hatchlings teetering on the edge after we removed the sand at the side of their nest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we were done, we extracted 407 hatchlings.  This brings the total number of hatchlings for 2018 to 2582, a 91.5% hatch rate.  When added to the number of undeveloped eggs we found, we can account for 96.6% of the eggs we relocated.  This is not 100% because, in spite of our efforts, there are still some hatchlings in the sand and they will emerge on warm days in the winter.  

September, 2018 – What A Wonderful Response!

This year we moved our Diamondback Terrapin release parties to Sunset Park and it has been a huge success!  We have had four evening events to date with attendance numbering between 70 -90 people joining us to learn about the Diamondbacks and assist in releasing the hatchlings into the high marsh. We also changed the format of the gatherings by having two presentations – one for adults that allows for detailed information and lots of questions and one geared toward children of all ages.

For almost seven months a year, terrapin volunteers spend an incredible amount of time locating, re-nesting, monitoring and releasing this ‘Species of Concern’.  We are so appreciative of the interest and enthusiasm that is demonstrated at our Hatchling Happenings and the support from the entire Landings community.

It has been an amazing season – no varmints have broken into our nesting boxes and we managed to gather a record number of eggs…2822! Given our average percentage of eggs hatched, we should release approximately 2500 hatchlings this year. It takes six years for a female to mature and venture onto land to lay her eggs. Each female can lay three clutches a season (May – July) with each nest averaging 8 eggs. One of our volunteers, Jim Olson, has photographed many of the females that gravitate to Plantation hole #3. Jim has documented that about every 13-16 days the same female will come ashore to nest in the same area.  The information we provide to the Department of Natural Resources and UGA Marine Extension aides in the research to help preserve this species.

We are asked quite frequently if we are overpopulating our area with all the hatchlings we release. If left to Mother Nature, the survival rate for most turtles, be they Diamondbacks, Loggerheads or even Yellow-Bellied Sliders is about 1%. Diamondback Terrapins have several obstacles to overcome to reach their average lifespan of 40 years.  Terrapins inhabit the brackish coastal waters from Cape Cod to Corpus Christie, Texas…the only area in the world where this turtle exists.  Terrapins have been designated as a protected species in most states but are still harvested in some areas, face habitat destruction, are subject to road mortality, drown in large numbers in crab traps and fishing nets, have their nests raided by raccoons, crows and red fox and as newborns, are consumed by marsh rats, birds and raccoons! It is truly amazing the challenges these reptiles must overcome. Here on Skidaway, we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that Diamondback Terrapins survive as one of nature’s unique creatures. Please join us on September 20th and 27th for our last Hatchling Happenings in 2018.

The Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project is just one element of Skidaway Audubon’s mission to enhance and protect our natural environment. Thank you for your support!

August, 2018 – THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

The Diamondback Terrapin nesting season has concluded and now the fun begins!  We relocated 320 nests with a count of 2822 eggs….another record season! Since we have critter-proofed the nesting boxes to prevent the invasion and destruction from moles and fox that occurred last year, we should have approximately 2500 hatchlings to release over the next three months.

This year, our ‘Hatchling Happenings’ will be held at Sunset Park on Thursday evenings at 6:00 PM. Our first release will be on August 23rd followed by every Thursday evening through the end of September. Our format will offer two separate presentations – one for adults that will address the unique characteristics of the Diamondbacks and allow time for questions, responses and release – the other presentation, geared toward our younger audience, will focus on the fun facts, story photos, coloring pages, show and tell and, of course, the experience of holding, naming and releasing their baby terrapin!

We would like to thank all the golfers, Club marshals and residents who called in sightings of the females nesting or scurrying back and forth into the marsh.  This Audubon Rescue Project has been in existence for eight years and without your assistance and the work of seven dedicated volunteers, the local terrapin population would be on the cusp of being classified as an ‘endangered species’.  The combination of my six years of working alone and transferring eggs to flower pots on my front porch, plus the 8 years of the Audubon project, has produced over 13,000 hatchlings – all released into the marshlands surrounding our island.  We have cooperated in scientific studies with John Crawford at UGA Marine Extension, Dr. Matthew Draud and Dr. Karen Craven from Armstrong University and Dr. John Maerz from UGA, Athens.  What a ride it has been!!!

Hope to see you all at a Hatchling Happening!

July, 2018

First hatchlings!

Nesting season has been a record breaker this year!   We already have 200+ more eggs than the entire 2017 season and there’s still a couple of weeks to go.  July 15 brought us the first hatchlings of 2018.  Don’t worry about the little one on his back – he passed the ‘flip right est shortly after this photo was taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April, 2018 – Diamondback Terrapin Time is here!

Our first terrapins will be arriving in a few days to begin the 2018 nesting season. The nesting boxes have been rebuilt to keep out the moles and foxes; fresh sand is in place and new signs have been ordered. All the volunteers are ready for another record breaking Diamondback Terrapin season…..now all we need are the turtles!

Last fall we had a request from Dr. John Maerz, Professor or Vertebrate Ecology and Natural Resources at UGA, Athens. John asked if he could ‘borrow’ a few hatchlings for a research project.  He and his three undergraduate students were interested in determining if the salinity of the marsh had an effect on the growth of the hatchlings.  Lizzy Ashley, the lead student on the project, explained: “Because climate change effects, like rising sea levels and more frequent drought, threaten to raise coastal salinities, we were concerned with how terrapin hatchling growth and behavior may be affected.” John’s team was given 30 hatchlings to raise for six months and then return to be released at Plantation 9 & 10. They discovered that the higher the salinity level, the slower the growth of the hatchlings. The fact that they take longer to grow makes them more vulnerable for predation. The hatchlings raised in low salinity had 3x the mass increase than the terrapins in high salinity (sea water.) When they returned the hatchlings last month, it was  amazing to see how large the low salinity hatchlings had become – of course they had all increased in size dining on a daily smorgasbord of shrimp, snails and worms.  There were four other areas of experimentation that were documented by the team.  Dr Maerz stated that our hatchlings had assisted in the advancement of behavioral studies that will help insure the survival of the species. Who would have guessed sixteen years ago, that collecting turtle eggs in flower pots, monitoring through the gestation period and releasing the hatchlings into the marsh could aid in the survival of this ‘species of concern’

July, 2017

World’s smallest hatchling?

This little guy was found by volunteer Jim Olsen on July 23.  He/she may be the result of a half-size egg Jim found in May or of stunted development from the movement of the eggs caused by the mole invasion.  In any case, the baby is quite alert and doing fine in spite of it’s tiny size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mole defying hatchling

We weren’t sure that any of the 291 eggs that had been moved about by moles when they invaded the large nesting box at #3 Plantation would be able to mature, but at least one has. This little guy emerged from one of the relocated nests on July 17.  We hope there will be many more to follow!

 

 

 

First hatchlings of 2017?

Volunteer Pattye Field had a surprise when checking the bunkers on #3 Plantation for nesting turtles.  She saw 2 sets of small tracks coming from a tiny hole in the top lip of one of the bunkers.  One track led to grass and the other to the middle of bunker.  She found one little guy covered in sand and motionless in the bunker, but he soon came alive when she picked him up.  She saw another baby at the hole and tried to wait for him to emerge. Golfers were coming non-stop, however, so when the green cleared she dug the nest for the safety of the babies.  Seven eager hatchlings later were on their way to a new life in the marsh.   We hope the one whose tracks led to the grass made a successful journey to the marsh as well!

 

 

 

 

June, 2017:  The Mole Invasion!

Our Diamondback Terrapin nesting season was progressing swimmingly when we suffered a minor setback.  We had re-nested 398 turtle eggs in the large nesting box at Plantation hole #3.  While digging in the box to transfer some eggs we noticed small tunnels in the sand.  Upon further investigation we discovered that almost every nest in the box had been disturbed and we were missing 107 eggs. After consulting with John Crawford and Dr. John Maerz, both with UGA Marine Science Dept., we were informed that the culprits were moles!  Apparently this is a common problem with turtle eggs. These are very well fed moles and they have a storehouse of food to last them through 2017!  Unfortunately, as he/she or they combed through the nests, they scattered the remaining terrapin eggs – if the eggs are turned or tumbled, as in this case, there is a strong possibility that the eggs will not mature.  We did remove the 291 remaining eggs and transplanted them into the small nesting box.  We will wait to see how many of these eggs will actually produce hatchlings.  Now, how to correct the problem….

With the help of Chris Steigelman’s crew, all the sand was removed from the nesting box.  Jim Olson, Dawn Cordo, Vince Cordo and I stapled ¼” hardware cloth to the bottom of the box, placed our weed control barrier on top and refilled the box. The moles will need teeth of steel to chew through the hardware cloth!   In the seven years that we have been using our nesting boxes, this has been our first encounter with a predator gaining access to the boxes. Thankfully we discovered the problem before another four or five hundred eggs had been re-nested in the box.

This year, to increase our projects value to the scientific community, we inserted into each nesting box a temperature data recorder. Thank goodness the moles did not ingest or wander off with one of these!  The temperature of the nest, at about a third of the way through the gestation period, will determine if the hatchling is a male or a female. For the last six years the only clue we have had about our hatchlings is that we are releasing quite a few females since the number of females coming ashore to lay eggs has increased each year.  The terrapin must be about six years old to reproduce and since this project has been ongoing for fifteen years we are certain that we have released a good number of females. Now we should have scientific data to support our supposition.

We are asking your help in getting us back on track. When you are playing or walking the Plantation course and spot a turtle, please call one of the numbers posted at the marsh front holes (#3, 8, 9, 10 &15). Nearby, you will find a wooden stand with a wire basket and the sign with two cell numbers. If the turtle has finished nesting, you can place the basket over the nest and we will retrieve. If you see tracks in the bunkers try not to rake over them as these tracks lead us to the nest.   We sincerely appreciate your patience and awareness as we cruise around the course at high tides in pursuit of the elusive terrapins. If you have a bad shot at one of the holes you can blame it on those darn turtle volunteers who distracted you!

Our hatchlings should start appearing at the end of July.  We have scheduled our “Hatchling Happenings” on Thursday evenings at 6:00PM at hole #3 of the Plantation course beginning on August 3rd and going through September 14th.  If you happen to have a child or grandchildren visiting and these dates do not work into their schedule, please call Pattye (912-660-5141) or Carolyn (912-507-3700) and we can let you know if we have any hatchlings ready to be released.  If you would like to learn more about Diamondback Terrapins, please visit our interpretive sign located in Sunset Park or access our website at  www.skidawayaudubon.org .   Thank you all for your support of the Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Rescue Project!

Pattye Field                                      Jim Olson                              Carolyn McInerney

Peggy Miller                                     Marji Schwickrath

Dawn Cordo                                     Liz Munro

 

April, 2017:  Who said turtling was boring??

In early April Dr. John Maerz from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at UGA came to visit our Skidaway Audubon Diamondback Terrapin Project.  John spent four hours with us, ‘talking turtles’.  He imparted ideas of how to enhance our program to provide more valuable information to the scientific community that focuses on the preservation of the Diamondback Terrapins.

For a number of years, Dr. Maerz has led a team of his students and staff to seine for Diamondbacks in the creeks adjacent to the Jekyll Island Causeway.  This excursion allows him to analyze the ecological balance and diversity of the inhabitants of the marsh as well as the overall health of the habitat. The terrapins that are caught in the seining nets are marked, recorded and released so that each year the growth or depletion of the terrapin population can be documented.

During John’s visit with us, he invited us to join his students for an afternoon of seining in late April. Needless to say, we could not pass up this opportunity!  Even after receiving a long letter from John explaining the attire for the occasion and what to expect……to be waist deep in water and at least knee deep in mud most of the trip;  wear old tennis shoes that can be tied tightly to protect feet from oyster shells and not lose them as feet got sucked into the mud; wear long socks & shin guards, if we had them, to protect legs from oyster shells when we have to crawl through the mud; wear masonry gloves to protect hands and bring sunscreen to cover whatever parts of your body are not covered by clothing and or mud! We were getting the impression that this might not be a leisurely stroll down a creek looking for a few turtles to pop their heads up.

Five of us wary souls, Pattye Field, Peggy Miller, Marji Schwickrath, Jim Olsen and myself decided to make the drive to Jekyll and just observe the proceedings….but we packed all the necessary gear just in case we decided to get adventurous.  We met up with Dr. Maerz and his band of enthusiastic students at the Jekyll Island Welcome Center.  After meeting everyone and experiencing their excitement and anticipation of the adventure, four of us decided to join the group. Peggy was smart and didn’t bring a change of clothes so she became the official photographer and managed to stay clean and dry!

 

The group was divided into two – one to seine the south creek and one to seine the north creek.  Brian (our leader) drew the short straw and was given the duty of marshalling us four ‘old folks’ along with his team to do the north creek.  And so the adventure began! We arrived at the creek and joyously joined the young’uns as they slipped, slid and slurped down the embankment and into the brown muddied waters.  We immediately were up to our knees in what felt like quicksand. The nets were set up and by this time we have been sucked into the mud another foot….soon to be seen no longer! We set out with Jim Olson taking control of one side of a net, I was in charge of the plastic tub that would eventually hold the terrapins that we would catch and Pattye and Marji brought up the rear laughing hysterically as they pulled and pried each other out of the mud.  The team spent two hours plodding along the north creek dragging two large nets, swimming at times when all of a sudden you went from waist deep to eight feet of water, helping each other when we got seriously stuck in the mud…   and we only caught three terrapins!  The south creek team caught over 50 terrapins, some cool fish, a few sharks and saw a pod of dolphins! I felt bad for Brian and his team – I am sure we brought them bad luck….but I do think IF we are invited next year, we will go back to do the south creek!

 

 

March, 2017:  2000th Hatchling!

March 1 brought the emergence of two more ‘sleepover’ hatchlings from the 2016 season.  This brings the total so far to 2000 babies – 222 more than our previous best year!  Click here to see the baby heading to the marsh.

 

 

 

 

 

February, 2017:  More 2016 hatchlings and a Turtle Sign

The warm weather in mid-February has caused some of the hatchlings that spent the winter buried deep in the nesting boxes to emerge.  There were 11 in February so far, including the Valentine’s Day baby to the left.

 

 

 

 

Also on Valentine’s day, the long awaited turtle sign was installed at Sunset Park so that it will be accessible to golfers and non-golfer’s alike.

 

 

 

 

 

November, 2016:  Last hatchlings of 2016

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Late in each turtle season — long after the last nests should have hatched out — the volunteers carefully dig through each nesting box to extricate any hatchlings that haven’t emerged from their nests.  The nesting box at #3 was the last one to be dug for this season. The dig on November 6 yielded 11 babies, bringing the total for 2016 to 1975. This is a 91.1% hatch rate – our best year ever!  We still have not accounted for all of the 2016 eggs. Some of the babies bury themselves so deeply in the nesting boxes that the volunteers don’t find them in the digs.  These hatchlings will eventually emerge in the spring.

 

 

 

 

July, 2016:  First babies of 2016

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The first baby turtles of the 2016 season arrived on July 10.  They are shown in one of the ‘catchpots’ that are embedded into each nesting box.  After the babies have hatched and climbed out of their nest they wander around the nesting box trying to get to the marsh.  Eventually, they tumble into one of the two catchpots for safe keeping until one of the volunteers can release them.  Normally the catchpots are covered (you can see the posts that hold up the cover) and the sand is kept moist so the babies will have a shady, cool space to wait.  Volunteers check the catchpots in each nesting box several times every day so the babies don’t have too long to wait until they can get to the marsh.

 

 

 

May, 2016:  It’s Diamondback Time Again!

The 2016 season has begun!  We had our first Terrapin nests on Plantation on April 28th and we’re anticipating another 250+ nests to follow.  The female Diamondbacks will be coming ashore from now through the end of July to nest in the bunkers.  The hatchlings will begin appearing in July and continue hatching through early October. We will be scheduling “Hatchling Happenings” throughout the late summer and will keep you updated on these events through the TWATL and the Audubon web site (www.skidawayaudubon.org). If you are out on the Plantation course and spot a turtle in the bunkers or coming across the fairway, please call us to come retrieve the eggs before the crows or raccoons get to the nest.  There are cell phone numbers on the sign posts where you will also find the wire baskets to cover a nest if you happen to witness the terrapin laying her eggs.

This is also the time of year when all the female Yellow Bellied Sliders make their way out of the lagoons to find nesting areas on shore. I have seen over a dozen destroyed turtles on our roadways and the season has just begun. Please drive carefully – these turtles do not dash across the roads and they are larger and much slower than the squirrels so you should have time to see them and avoid them. If you can safely stop to remove the turtle from the roadway just place her to the side of the road in the direction she was headed. Quite frequently, the sliders get in the roads and cannot escape due to the curbing – your assistance would be appreciated!

This is my 14th year of rescuing Diamondback Terrapin nests and releasing the hatchlings into our marshlands. The program has grown to be the largest rescue effort of its kind and there are many organizations and individuals to thank for the success of the program. It would not be possible without the dedication of our volunteers, the Skidaway Audubon Board that sponsors and funds our conservation and education efforts, The Landings Club, through the dedication of Chris Steigelman and his crew, who set up the nesting boxes each spring…and…Thanks to all the residents who call in turtle sightings and to the families who attend our Terrapin releases. It is gratifying to know that we have neighbors who share our enthusiasm and love of Skidaway’s natural environment.

 

Carolyn McInerney

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