Turtle Happenings

A Day in the Life of an SCA Cape Canaveral Sea Turtle Intern by Caroline Woodward

Hey y’all!

I would say a lot has happened in the past week, but really something different happens every day. No two service days are the same, and we are eating it up more than the mosquitoes are eating us up (which is a considerable amount; they don’t call it Mosquito Lagoon for nothing).

Turtle run mornings begin at 4 a.m., making for a larger probability of seeing a mama turtle whilst laying. It was one of the things that seemed strange for us to not have seen while working yet (I mean…we’re TURTLERS, dang it). The babies are cute, but we want the whole package.

Earlier this week, we got that experience.

To the right is the best image I could get of a nesting green sea turtle. The red is from the only lights we are able to use in night rides, as they are less invasive to the turtles so as to not spook them or discourage laying. It is important avoid the white light which resembles the moon to some turtles, thus disorienting them.

This turtle was quite the fussy lady. She had finished laying by the time we found her, and was already at work covering the nest (as well as herself) by using her flippers to throw sand behind her.

Because she was clearly upset, grunting and hissing at us, we decided to leave her be and tend to the nest at another time.

While the nesting numbers are going down at this point in the season, the number of hatches is on an incline and about to severely spike.

Looking at our data, Jeff and I realized that the sudden boom of nests the park took on in recent months is just about due for hatching. Many nests are hatching early, and with solid success rates. We’re not sure why some are hatching ahead of time, but we’re also not complaining. It’s baby turtle fever at Canaveral!

All of the triangulations we did these past couple weeks help us to easily identify the nests due for excavation. Excavations mean lots of opportunity to find baby turtles!

This sweet thing on the left is a brand new loggerhead. The nest was a long distance from the water. We gave the lil guy some time to get oriented, but with a large number of interested seagulls flying overhead, we had to be sure he reached the water safely.

This really just lead to us chasing a bunch of relentless birds across the beach while the turtles fought the shore break, and ended with me waste-deep in work clothes and boots seeing the hatchlings out on their way.

To the right is the first baby leatherback we have seen! This was a big moment for Jeff and I. They are exceptionally endangered, and the park only sees about 20 leatherback nests per season!

These hatchlings are much larger than the other species, and for good reason. Their parents themselves can way up to nearly a ton. That’s a lot of turtle to haul up the shore!

As has proven true for all of our service time at the seashore up to this point, our work is exceptionally rewarding. It leaves us both tired from the day past as well as excited for the day to come.

With each new experience, our curiosity builds, the questions become more pressing, the appreciation grows, and our love for the sea turtles reaches new levels.

Through accidents from missed GPS points to confusion about the recording of excavation data to even rolling ATV trailers, we are learning more and more each day.

The ability to gain this hands-on, in-field experience makes so much of a difference in terms of understanding what all of our work in classes and research is really for.

We could never purchase anything or read about what it’s really like, and have the same value of knowledge as we do now from just a short time out on the beach; seeing, touching, and certainly the smells provide so much more than we realized.

For these opportunities, we are grateful. The connections we’ve made, colleagues, seasoned field veterans, and friends, are something we hope to carry on well beyond our time here at Canaveral.

We spend way more time covered in dirt, sweat, shells, and turtle mess than anything else. We come home tired every day, and sometimes a bit sore. Between that and Hurricane Bertha bringing in good swell this week to tend to in our off time (I’m teaching Jeff how to surf), we have a few sore muscles, bruises, and scrapes to add to the list as well. But we don’t mind. There is a decent sense of pride one feels in working outdoors, especially for something you feel proud to stand behind.

All the same, however, it is probably not a terrible thing that we have our first office day tomorrow entering in the data we’ve collected to the system. Our faces are sunburnt, and could certainly use the break. Not to mention that once we get really deep into the excavations, it will be a lot of heavy digging and hanging perfectly upside down in holes fighting angry crabs and moving smelly egg remains. We’ll need the mini-break.

We look forward to sharing the coming turtle baby boom with everyone!

Stay Salty,

Caroline Woodward