Georgia Sea Turtle Center

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is comprised of three departments: research, education, and husbandry. AmeriCorps collaborates with the GSTC to fill membership positions in each department for 6 months to a year. The facility is located on Jekyll Island and welcomes visitors to take part in tours in the hospital and on the beach.

 
 
 A sea turtle hatchling making its way to the open ocean. 

A sea turtle hatchling making its way to the open ocean. 

Loggerhead sea turtle project

The main project for the research department was a long-term population study with the Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Sea turtle populations are decreasing around the world. A huge problem is light pollution which comes from human civilization. Large hotels and buildings are constructed next to the beach that flood the beach with white light. Nesting female sea turtles can become confused by the light causing many to leave the beach before laying. Using red light while on the beach helps reduce white light pollution that will not distract female turtles.

As a research member I was part of a four-person crew that would patrol the beach from nightfall to sunrise. When a female turtle was spotted on the beach we would PIT tag each front flipper in part of a large mark recapture project to estimate the population size. In addition, we would take tissue samples for genetic analysis. One of the female sea turtles that visits Jekyll island is the great grandmother of another female sea turtle visiting a nearby beach, making her more than 80 years old. After several nesting females have laid eggs dawn patrols begin. During this patrol we check each nest for signs of predation or hatching. To determine hatch success, we dug up the nest after it has hatched and counted all the eggs hatched and those that either did not develop or died. It was an incredible opportunity to work on the beach and witness females laying eggs and hatchlings crawl to the ocean.

 
 An Eastern diamondback rattlesnake being tubed to collect morphological data. 

An Eastern diamondback rattlesnake being tubed to collect morphological data. 

Herpetological Studies

With graduate students, research technicians, and AmeriCorps members the research department had several herpetological projects. I had a great opportunity to assist on each project. 

  • Radio tracked Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes
  • Population study of American alligators using noose capture techniques and tail notching
  • Mark recapture study of freshwater turtles using scute notching and tattooing
  • Seining the marsh for Diamondback terrapins

The Diamondback terrapin lives in the marsh surrounding the island and unfortunately is dissected by a large highway to enter the island. The female turtles search for higher ground and hundreds find themselves on the slope of the highway. Sadly, many are hit each year by tourists visiting the island. All departments take part in protecting the female turtles by driving the highway in remove turtles. Large nesting boxes have been built near the highway for females to lay eggs in a protected area. However, many turtles are still hit every year. Those turtles are brought to the hospital and either the female can be saved or if not, the eggs are removed and incubated until hatching.