Earth Day

Alert readers noted in the previous entry “Opening up” that I observed my first loggerhead turtle of the year sailing out into Bulls Bay on April 11. I had several more sightings this past Thursday, April 22, 2010, Earth Day. It was our first day of building hatcheries on Cape Island, led by Sarah Dawsey, wildlife biologist of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, and included other wildlife staff and volunteers like myself. Cape Island is the northern barrier island in the refuge, and is the largest loggerhead nesting island north of Florida. (A little bit more about this island and some photos from Cape). While sitting on the beach eating lunch on Earth Day, the calm conditions allowed us to observe perhaps as many as five different individuals coming up for a breath.

So what is in store for this loggerhead season? There are three islands in the refuge that the turtle conservation program covers: Cape Island, Lighthouse Island, and Bull Island. This program, and all the others in the state of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, will be part of a genetic research project. Each nest will be surveyed by the taking of one egg, and extracting DNA between layers of the inner shell membrane. This will allow researchers to identify the mother. Here are a few of the questions this study poses:

1. How many females are nesting along the South Carolina coast?
2.How many nests does each female lay in a season and does the number change annually?
3.How close together or far apart does each female lay her nests?
4.How close does a daughter return to her hatching site to lay her nests?

These are more than just interesting questions this study will explore – they are questions that will contribute critical data to the conservation of this endangered species. Interested readers wishing to explore this loggerhead genetic project further may go to the following links on the DNR web.

http://www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/volres/genetics.pdf

http://www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/volres/geneticsbrochure.pdf/a>

While completing this unfinished reflection on Earth Day, I noticed that the Cape Island turtle nesting widget has recorded the first nest on the island (as of this writing 2.9 days ago). There are probably more since that first nest. The hatcheries on Cape Island will be even more necessary than previous years, since there is little adequate nesting area due to changes to the island. And yet, as we saw on Earth Day on the beach, the loggerheads keep choosing Cape as the nesting island of choice north of Florida. We will all be learning more about the loggerheads of the Northern Recovery Unit during this and the next three nesting seasons.