Two of my favorite things are the beach and math. This summer, I was able to enjoy them together with my first season of Turtle Patrol! Share the Beach is an organization of amazing volunteers that patrol the beaches from May until the end of August EVERY morning. Morning patrol, as it is called, looks for tracks or signs of mama sea turtles that have nested overnight.
These are mama turtle tracks coming in and going back out to sea. Below, you will see tracks of one mama who could not make up her mind and went all over the beach searching for the perfect spot.
Sea turtles are on the endangered species list partly because of habitat loss. Share the Beach volunteers assess where the turtle left her eggs and will follow guidelines set forth in making the decision to relocate nests to higher ground, if they are in danger of being inundated by storms. Enter Matt Ware, a doctoral candidate from Florida State University, who has spent three turtle seasons on Fort Morgan collecting data for his research. There are concerns with relocating nests to incubating environments different from where the nests were originally placed. His research deals with comparing the two nests' thermal profile, sand characteristics, and exposure to threats. There is SO much data! Volunteers take measurements of all the things when a nest is found. Data for the date, location by GPS, distance to high tide line, and nearest obstruction are recorded when a nest is found. If the decision is made to relocate, based on the Alabama Sea Turtle Conservation Manual's guidelines, more data is taken including new nest GPS location, distance moved, number of eggs, and the reason for relocation.
The research uses beach SLOPE between the nests to analyze all the things! Love this! All the fancy math can be seen with this article and PowerPoint from Hilary Stockdon. Matt Ware's research can be read here.
Once the nests reach day 55, volunteers begin nest sitting at night. Stethoscopes are used to listen for movement once an indention starts forming at the center of the nest. Then the boil happens and the babies make their way to the water.
72 hours later, the nest is excavated to collect data on how many eggs were in the nest and their viability.
And sometimes....there are still babies in the nest waiting to get out!
My morning patrol also had friends that I would rather not have met! And weather that you needed rain gear and your scared sister for!
Share the Beach shared their turtle patrol with me and I am so thankful for a summer filled with new experiences and MATH LESSONS!
Fine print: All photos obtained with permission from the US Fish and Wildlife Service under conditions not harmful to this or other turtles.