This summer, Florida State University (FSU), the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission / Research Institute (FWC/FWRI) collaborated to form a marine turtle internship at T.H. Stone Memorial Saint Joseph Peninsula State Park. The goal of this internship was to assist park staff with marine turtle patrol at a more remote, dynamic, and less developed area of the park, the Wilderness Preserve. The four FSU interns included undergraduates Sophia Fonseca, Emma Guss, Elizabeth Thomas, and John Zito. Graduate student Natalie Montero is conducting her research at the park and acted as the on-site supervisor for the internship. These students are a part of the Marine Turtle Research, Ecology, and Conservation Group, which is led by FSU Professor Dr. Mariana Fuentes.
An average day began hours before the sun rose, arriving at the park at around 5:30am every day. They drove a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) to the tip of St. Joseph’s Peninsula, dropping off half the group to the start of Section A, and the other half driving to the beginning of Section B. The unpredictable amount of erosion occurring on the peninsula this time of year allows for the UTV to be ridden on the inland trail only and not the beach. The group walked almost five miles of beach each day, which totaled over 1300 miles combined for the summer.
Every morning’s main objective was to find marine turtle crawls and determine whether a nest had been laid. This was completed on FWC marine turtle crawl data sheets and entered in a notebook and spreadsheet containing the entire season’s crawls. If a crawl was identified to be a nest, it was surrounded by three wooden stakes, one of which had a yellow nesting sign attached to it. Other data collected included date, species of marine turtle, and location pertaining to high tide line as well as latitude and longitude.
Natalie Montero is researching the effects of local climate and nest environment on hatchlings and used select nests at St. Joseph for her studies. This included locating the egg clutch, depositing a temperature logger into the nest, collecting a sand sample from the surface of the nest, and increasing protection of the turtle nest with the addition of a self-releasing screen. She is also conducting this study at St. George Island State Park to compare how nests laid and hatchlings born at these two locations may differ.
The total amount of beach covered by the group lent itself to 96 marine turtle nests, 89 of which were loggerhead marine turtle nests and seven were green marine turtle nests. Unfortunately, this park experiences high predation by nonnative coyotes and native ghost crabs. After the completion of the internship, 66% of all nests monitored had been predated by coyotes, ghost crabs, or both. However, the group is keeping their hopes up for the untouched nests!