The official beginning of Georgia’s sea turtle nesting season is right around the corner.
On April 26, Tybee Island Marine Science Center is kicking it off with its 10th annual Tybee Turtle Trot.
Like many of Georgia’s barrier islands, Tybee attracts the loggerhead females to its sandy beaches.
A record year across the coast, 2013 saw a total of 21 nests on the island, with 1,429 hatchlings emerging from their nests and making their way to the sea.
With the growing popularity of Savannah’s beach, our little aquatic hatchlings need a little extra help and protection to make sure as many make their trek into the waves as possible.
This is where the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and the Sea Turtle Project come in.
The center is home to an extremely dedicated and enthusiastic staff that works to educate the public, nurture sick and injured turtles, and coordinate the necessary protection for turtle nests during nesting season.
With such tall orders, they certainly cannot do it alone.
To help protect the unhatched eggs from predators, beachgoers and tides, an army of volunteer cooperators walks the three-mile beach daily at 6 a.m. Cooperators spot new nests to mark and rope off. They also are the first to find signs of a hatching. From there, staff steps in to conduct further research and excavate the nests following the hatch.
Conservation group Sea Turtle Conservancy lists Georgia’s loggerhead turtles as a threatened species in the United States. This means they are “likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.” Among the animal’s top threats are “the loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development, predation of nests and human disturbances (such as coastal lighting and housing developments) that cause disorientations during the emergence of hatchlings.”
This designation makes the work of the Tybee Marine Science Center’s Sea Turtle Project even more important.
On April 26, the Tybee Marine Science Center is hosting its Turtle Trot 5k to help support the Sea Turtle Project. At 8 a.m., runners line up on the beach, just north of the Tybee pavilion, for the beach run that follows the dunes on the hard-packed sand. Following the awards ceremony, at roughly 9:15 a.m., race participants and spectators are treated to a glimpse of the good work they’ve supported.
Each year, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center brings several rehabbed patients — turtle patients, to be exact — to be released into the ocean.
Flanked by volunteers, staff and a crowd of spectators, the large turtles are carried to the waterline, where they then make their own way into the sea.
It is a moment that is sure to move all present.
The Science Center’s Cody Shelley describes the experience.
“It’s pretty profound. You realize that these creatures have the similar life expectancy as us. That turtle may be 50 years old and just needed some help getting over an injury or illness,” Shelley says. “It really makes you feel small in the grand scheme of things.”
Before runners leave the island, the science center invites them to enjoy a little bit more sea turtle time.
Runners may present their race bib at the door for free entry to the center to visit Ike, Tybee’s resident loggerhead hatchling. Be sure to check out Ike’s journal at the center’s Facebook page, too!
With all that we ask of our coastline and beaches, it’s good to give back every once in a while. The Tybee Turtle Trot is a great way to support the conservancy of a very special animal.
“There is an immediate benefit to what we do,” Shelley says. “The measures we take all year have a huge effect. (Protecting the turtles) really is a community effort.”
To register for the event, visit Active.com and search Tybee Turtle Trot.
For all things Tybee, go to http://www.VisitTybee.com, Facebook or Twitter @VisitTybee.
IF YOU GO
What: Tybee Turtle Trot
When: 8 a.m. April 26
Where: Beach north of Tybee pavilion
Cost: Varies; sign up early for discounts
Info: http://www.active.com, search for Tybee Turtle Trot