Wednesday, June 6, 2012

News from Lexi, Sea Turtle Hospital Intern

Hello sea turtle lovers! My name is Lexi and I am lucky enough to be one of the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle  Rescue Program interns this summer. While we as interns have many different responsibilities around the hospital, one very exciting thing we get to do every week is to spend a day working “in the field” protecting sea turtle nests. This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, where loggerhead sea turtle nesting density is really high. My day began at 4:45 a.m. with a 45-minute drive out to Garris Landing and another 20 minute ride out to the dock in McClellanville. But let me tell you, the haul was worth it! I got to see the sun come up over the marsh and was welcomed by a dolphin in the tidal creek on the way out to the barrier islands.  I kept thinking to myself, is this real life?

A girl who works with the SC Department of Natural Resources and I were dropped off at the first island, Lighthouse. We were left with our backpacks, some poles, buckets, a shovel, nest cages, and the keys to the four-wheeler. Once we got the four-wheeler loaded, we traveled to the far end of the beach and scouted for nests on our way. We relocated the nests as we worked our way back.  Each nest is buried a little over a foot underground and carries a range of 80 to 120+ eggs.  The eggs seemed quite fragile, resembling deflated ping-pong balls. Once we carefully dug them up and place them gently in the bucket, we reburied the eggs safely above the high tide line, usually around some vegetated dunes.  After we buried them, we placed a cage over the nest. This keeps predators such as raccoons and crabs out, but still allows the baby turtles to crawl out of the nest once they hatch.  We had five nests total, and relocated four of them.

You can tell by the flipper marks where the turtle crawled in from the water and where the crawled out of the nesting site.  You can also tell by the flipper marks if the female turtle had a “stumpy” flipper (where it could have been injured a boat or predator). Interestingly enough, the only nest that we did not have to relocate was created by a “stumpy” female turtle! This just goes to show you how amazing these guys are and how strong their instincts are to fulfill their “goal” of reproducing, no matter what the struggle. 

It’s such a great feeling being able to help the species fulfill this goal by increasing the likelihood that the hatchlings make it through the incubation process and back out to the ocean. This was so much fun for me and I can’t wait to go back to Cape Romain!
Alexis (Lexi)