This is a record year for turtle reproduction on St. George Island. So far 427 loggerhead nests have been identified and marked.

A sea turtle nest evaluation was conducted by Sea Turtle Volunteer Coordinator Janice Becker, and Emily Jackson with Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve's Coastal Training Program, on Monday morning, August 22 in the east end of St. George Plantation. They were assisted by volunteers Sharon and Dave Hutchinson.

Six people observed the evaluation: Kristin Coors Albrecht and her 3-year-old son Noah, Kim Coors, Dee Ryan, Megen Coors, all of Indiana, and Jourdan Parenka from Nashville, Tennessee.

Evaluations are done when indications that the nest has hatched are identified, such as tracks in the sand, or when the hatch time for a nest exceeds 70 days, since on the average incubation takes about 60 days. During the evaluation volunteers note how deep the nest is, how many eggs it contains, how many eggs hatched and the dimensions of the bottom on the nest.

The nest excavated Monday contained 70 hatched eggs and four unhatched. Turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.

The nest evaluated was marked on July 4. The temperature of the sand governs the speed at which the embryos develop; the hatching period can cover a broad range. Essentially, the hotter the sand surrounding the nest, the faster the embryos will develop. Cooler sand has a tendency to produce more males, with warmer sand producing a higher ratio of females.

Franklin County’s barrier islands are active nesting sites for sea turtles. Very little is known about why sea turtles nest on some beaches and not on others. Nesting distribution may reflect conditions that existed centuries ago, when temperature, beach profiles or the lack of predation made some areas preferable to sea turtles.

Most females return faithfully to the same beach each time they are ready to nest. Not only do they appear on the same beach, they often emerge within a few hundred yards of where they last nested.

Today, humans are the biggest factor affecting the places where sea turtles nest. Beach erosion caused by coastal armoring and navigational inlets, artificial lighting and beach renourishment are all impacting once pristine beaches, including the beach on St. George Island.

The county has passed an ordinance to protect nesting sea turtles and the St. George Island Volunteer Turtlers play an important role in their preservation by acting as guardians to turtle nests.

The more we understand about how, where and when sea turtles nest, the better we will be able to protect their nesting habitat. Evaluations like the on performed on Monday are a valuable service to the environment.

The Turtle Patrol will have a limit number of spaces available for highly interested individuals to be a part of the excavations. Due to unpredictable timing, the ANERR will accept reservations from individuals who will be called when a hatched nest is scheduled for excavation. The excavations will take place in the morning on St. George Island, between 8 -10 a.m. with free parking next to the lighthouse.

To place your name on the call list, contact Emily Jackson at 670-7043.

Anita Grove is the coastal training program coordinator and communications at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. She can be reached at 670-7708