Loggerhead Turtle. Photo courtesy of Ukanda. Last month, a group of volunteers, citizens and scientists made a surprising, and exciting discovery along the beach in Jackson County, Mississippi – a loggerhead sea turtle nest.
Loggerhead turtles, a threatened species in the Gulf, grow to over 250 pounds in weight and up to three feet long. Although they are known to nest in small numbers on Mississippi’s barrier islands, they are rarely seen nesting along the mainland. This is one of the only confirmed reports of a loggerhead turtle nest along Mississippi’s mainland for over two decades!
On the evening of May 22nd, a camper along the beach observed one of these
Nest as it was being excavated. Photo courtesy of Dr. Janet Wright.massive turtles emerge from the water near his tent and lay eggs in the sand. In the morning, he informed a group of Tulane researchers, who then informed volunteers with the Mississippi Coastal Preserve and Audubon Coastal Bird Survey of the discovery. They contacted experts from state and federal agencies, Alabama Sea Turtles, and staff from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS).
Later that day, folks from IMMS and Alabama Sea Turtles met up with the volunteers and the camper. According to Dr. Janet Wright, a Coastal Preserve Habitat Steward and volunteer with the Audubon Coastal Bird Survey, it was “concluded that the nest had a very low chance of success because it was too close to the waterline and was also in an area where many off-road vehicles drive.”
Holding up the "1" Sign to signal that this is "Nest 1" in mainland Mississippi. Photo courtesy of Alicia Carron.
After eggs are laid, there is only a limited time window to safely move them, so, in cooperation with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the team took emergency action to excavate and relocate the 109 eggs to a more protected area. As Dr. Wright observed, without the assistance of the camper, “we would not have had this unique record or the chance to hatch loggerhead turtle eggs” on the beach in Jackson County. I, for one, hope to hear more good news once the eggs hatch!
Thanks to Dr. Janet Wright and Dr. Andrew Coleman for their hard work and willingness to share this amazing story. They also asked me to thank all the enthusiastic volunteers who are helping on this project.
Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Mississippi Organizer.