The Georgia Sea Turtle Center Research Department does ecological research on a variety of wildlife species on Jekyll Island and has a substantial focus on the conservation and management of our nesting sea turtle population.
Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) are our primary nesting species on Jekyll Island, although we receive occasional visits from Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas). Jekyll Island has one of the most extensive loggerhead sea turtle tagging and nest monitoring programs in the world. Tagging studies began as early as 1958, and volunteers and technical staff have collected data on Jekyll’s beaches for Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR) since 1972 (read more on the history of our project here). When the GSTC, a state-of-the art facility focused on sea turtle rehabilitation, research, and education, opened in June 2007, it became the operator of Jekyll’s tagging and monitoring activities. GSTC Research Department patrollers participate in both morning and night surveys of Jekyll’s 9.5 miles of beachfront. The GSTC patrol team conducts nighttime surveys on Jekyll Island’s nine miles of beach from dusk until dawn beginning in May through the end of nesting season in August, which allows us to encounter most of our nesting females. The GSTC was given permission for all activities under a permit by the GADNR.
During night patrols, biologists look for the crawl signs of female nesting sea turtles. During nesting encounters, each female is checked for PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) and flipper tags. If she is missing any of the required tags, she is tagged accordingly. We apply permanent, individually-coded tags to the turtles so that they can be uniquely identified in subsequent visits to Jekyll. Additionally, each female undergoes a visual physical exam and is photographed for identification and education purposes. Length and width measurements are also recorded during the nesting process and biopsy samples are taken for both a genetics and ecotoxicology study. GPS coordinates are recorded so we can understand our distribution of turtles on the Jekyll beach and identify hotspots for nest and hatching success. Additionally, we use this information to monitor locations where we need further management of light pollution and human activity. With these data we can ascertain if particular mitigation approaches could entice future nesting (e.g., turning off lights). In addition to nesting locations, we also take GPS points of false crawls, which is when a turtle emerges from the ocean, but does not find an appropriate spot to nest or is scared off by beach activity and returns to the sea without laying her eggs at that time.
Dawn patrol involves the monitoring and relocation of nests. When a nest is in danger of inundation by tides, it is moved to higher ground by the patrol team in order to increase hatch success rates. As nests begin to hatch, patrollers are also responsible for excavating hatched nests.
You can do your part to help our nesting beach program by making sure you leave no trace when you visit our beach, picking up trash and reducing marine debris, keeping pets on a leash and away from nests, and using no lights or turtle-friendly lights on the beach during nesting and hatching season. Please never approach mother or baby sea turtles if you are so fortunate to encounter them during your stay on Jekyll.
Research efforts are supplemented by several educational programs that run throughout the nesting season. For more information on our summer programs, please click here.