DNR Updates: There's a Turtle in the Moat

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Georgia Wild: Wood stork nest

How to remove a turtle from a moat

Removing sea turtle from moat

Sea turtle work is more than cruising the beach and counting nests. There are bleary-eyed days that begin before dawn, sweaty work, swarms of insects, reams of data, crises so common they’re expected.

And there is the occasional first – like rescuing a loggerhead in a moat.

DNR Sea Turtle Program Coordinator Mark Dodd admits he didn’t want to get in the moat at Fort Pulaski. Fed by canal in a dike system reaching to the Savannah River, the nearly 200-year-old waterway is wide, up to 8 feet deep and “full of things” – pipework, rubble and, well, “you don’t know what’s in there,” Dodd said.

But the young loggerhead that fit through a pipe in the canal liked what was in there: lots of crabs.

Staff at Fort Pulaski National Monument, on Cockspur Island near Savannah, spotted the federally listed marine turtle and phoned Dodd. The loggerhead could likely survive until temperatures cooled in the fall. But, concerned that water quality might worsen, Dodd determined it was best to get it out now.

That’s when the how-to plans began to crumble. Draining the moat (something the National Park Service does occasionally) went too slowly and would have still left large pools. Plan B, using a canoe to drive the turtle toward a trammel fish net, also failed. The loggerhead saw the mesh and ducked away.

As a last resort, Dodd and former Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative members Jen Kraus and Jessica Thompson, jumped in, stretched a seine net between them and slowly swam the turtle toward the trammel net, with help from the Park Service’s Candice Wyatt and Matt Hall.

That worked, although lifting the crab-fattened, 80-pound reptile into the canoe and out of the moat was a challenge, what with the tangled net, squirming turtle and people falling out of the canoe. The extra muscle from the Park Service crew proved critical in getting the loggerhead over the moat wall.

Tagging and releasing the sea turtle off Tybee Island beach went smoother. Thankfully. 

“Things happen and plans fall apart, and you just do what you gotta do,” Dodd said.

Even if it means getting in the moat.

Rescued turtle


Sea turtle release

Did you know …

  • Built from 1829-1847 to protect Savannah from naval attack, Fort Pulaski was captured in fewer than 36 hours during a Union siege in April 1862. New rifled cannons fired from Tybee Island opened holes in the 7.5-foot-thick walls – two of the holes measured 30 feet wide – leading to the surrender.
  • Loggerhead sea turtles are on the brink of a nesting record in Georgia. Stay up-to-date on the counts. The number to beat: 2,289 nests documented in 2013.

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Despite dip, wood stork nesting strong

Wood stork colony

By Elliot Ambrose

Wood stork nest totals in Georgia fell slightly from last year's record high, but surveys still show the tall, bald-headed wading birds making a comeback.

Wildlife biologist Tim Keyes, wood stork survey leader for DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, said aerial and ground surveys in May and June estimated 2,496 nests in 22 colonies, from Chatham to Mitchell County. Follow-up surveys, including flights this month, documented high productivity for wood storks, which were down-listed from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act last year.

The nest count is a drop from the record-setting 2,932 nests documented in 2014, but tops the previous two years and is consistent with long-term recovery trends.

“It’s still a great year and a really good count,” Keyes said.

Nearly all of the largest colonies were active this year and produced nests with multiple chicks. 

DNR and partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conduct the surveys. 


Wood stork wonders

  • Wood storks nest in colonies, often with several of the stick nests in the same tree. 
  • Nests are built over water, a setting in which alligators unwittingly help protect the eggs and chicks above from raccoons and other predators.
  • The first record of wood storks nesting in Georgia was in 1965 on Blackbeard Island.
  • Georgia colonies this year ranged in size from 442 nests at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge to 15 nests at a St. Catherines Island site. Colonies were documented in 12 counties: Brantley, Brooks, Camden, Chatham, Cook, Glynn, Jenkins, Liberty, McIntosh, Mitchell, Thomas and Worth. 
  • Colonies in southwest Georgia depend more on rainfall and are less stable than those in coastal counties, where many wetlands used by storks are influenced by tides.

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A manatee rescued from a warm-water plant outfall on the Savannah River in December may have suffered another mishap. A boat hit the satellite tag trailing the manatee in Florida’s Matanzas River on July 3, damaging the device and knocking it loose. It’s not known if the manatee was hurt or killed. SeaWorld Orlando nicknamed that manatee Clay, after DNR wildlife biologist Clay George, who helped organize the rescue (Dec. 18 Georgia Wild, plus video) and leads marine mammal research for the agency.

Nicknames also have been given to five manatees tracked in a DNR-led project this summer (Project maps manatees,” June 18). Project partner Sea to Shore Alliance is calling manatee TGA008 Tylerrose; TGA009 is Lanier (after 17th century poet Sidney Lanier, writer of “The Marshes of Glynn”); TGA010, Mercer (for Johnny Mercer, Savannah-born singer/songwriter and founder of Capitol Records); TGA011, Charles (Ray Charles, need we say more); and, TGA012 is Duo (re-tagged after its first tag malfunctioned; thus, do-over).

Tagged manatee in Crooked River

Please report sightings of tagged manatees to DNR at 1-800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363). Note the time, date, place, tag color and whether other manatees are present. Do not touch or harass the manatee (they're protected by federal and state law) or touch the tag.

The newly released FloraQuest app by the University of North Carolina Herbarium covers a 14-state area and some 7,000 species, or – as advertised – all you need to know about naturally occurring plants in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic U.S.

Nongame Conservation staff recently surveyed stretches of the Flint River and Spring Creek in south Georgia for rare fishes, capturing an unknown species of sand darter discovered in Georgia in 2013. Another crew sampled for federally petitioned mussels in the Oostanaula River watershed between Rome and Calhoun, finding, among other species, live Coosa creekshells in Camp and John’s Creek watershed.

Striped newt sampling

Twenty striped newt larvae and adults dip-netted from a breeding pond at Fall Line Sandhills Wildlife Management Areas were swabbed recently for Bsal chytrid, a disease devastating Eurasian salamanders, and skin samples taken for genetics research. Because some Eurasian newt species are sold as pets in the U.S., concern about the pathogen being introduced here has prompted monitoring of potentially vulnerable native salamanders. Fall Line Sandhills WMA near Butler harbors the only known healthy population of western striped newts, a candidate for federal listing. Learn more about Fall Line’s role in striped newt conservation in the Nongame Conservation Section annual report.

A tip led rangers to the Brunswick man charged this month for poaching sea turtle eggs on Sapelo Island – for the second time in two years. DNR Law Enforcement posted this account, with photos, after the July 8 arrest of Lewis Jackson Sr., who faces revocation of his parole, plus theft-related charges.

More names in the news: Longtime DNR educator Sheila Humphrey of Smithgall Woods Regional Education Center is retiring, having taught more than 150,000 children and teens about wildlife conservation and the environment. Cpl. Jason Roberson of DNR’s Law Enforcement Division has been named Officer of the Year by the Southern States Boating Law Administrators Caucus, which makes Roberson, already selected the state’s top boating officer, one of three finalists for the national award. The Georgia Forestry Commission honored Jim Gillis, a commission Board of Directors member for 38 years, by naming the agency’s headquarters auditorium in Dry Branch after him. A paper titled “An evaluation of streamflow augmentation as a short-term freshwater mussel conservation strategy” and written by Nongame Conservation Section's Jason Wisniewski and Andrew Gascho Landis and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sandy Abbott will be published in River Research and Applications. Dirk Stevenson of The Orianne Society wrote this thoughtful column about fellow herp enthusiast Davey Jones of Ridgeland, S.C., after Jones died recently. 

Coming up:

What you missed in the last Georgia Wild ...


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   "Feds want to revoke probation of man charged second time with theft of sea turtle eggs," Florida Times-Union
   "The start of sea turtle nesting," Nature’s Notebook (Little St. Simons Island blog)
   "Cooper’s hawk abundance gives NMSU researcher insight on other raptor biology," New Mexico State University
   (+ video) "Man arrested for allegedly shooting turtle rescue volunteer," CBS Miami
   "Boosting nutrients gives a leg up to invasive species," University of Minnesota
   "Black bear falls asleep on lawn after eating 20 pounds of dog food," Atlanta Journal and Constitution
   "Number of Georgia coast sea turtle nests may break record," WABE-FM/90.1 (Atlanta)
   "Collaboration and dedicated volunteers are saving the sea turtles," Savannah Morning News (paywall)
   "Conservation group, Jekyll Island representatives at odds over turtle lighting violations," Florida Times-Union
   "Continued destruction of Earth's plant life places humankind in jeopardy, says UGA research," UGA
   "Ocean acidification may cause dramatic changes to phytoplankton," Massachusetts Institute of Technology
   "One of world’s rarest turtles heading back to the wild," Wildlife Conservation Society
   "What is virga?" EarthSky (article on rain that evaporates before reaching the ground)
   "Forsyth woman completes quest to see all of Georgia’s state parks," The (Macon) Telegraph

Video and audio

   "Scientists search for Georgia's elusive pine snake," WABE-FM/90.1 (Atlanta)
   "How to rescue a great white shark on the beach," National Geographic

** Masthead: Young wood storks at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Julie Duncan/GaDNR
** DNR and National Park Service staff and two volunteers lift a loggerhead out of Fort Pulaski's moat. NPS
** From left, Matt Hall and Candice Wyatt of NPS and Jen Kraus and Jessica Thompson, former Sea Turtle Cooperative members. Mark Dodd/GaDNR
** DNR's Mark Dodd and Matt Hall and Candice Wyatt of NPS carry the turtle to the surf to release it on Tybee Island. NPS
** Aerial photo of wood stork nests in a colony near Camilla. Tim Keyes/GaDNR
** Tagged manatee No. 010 swims through the marsh at the mouth of Crooked River, its satellite transmitter trailing the animal like a large fishing cork. Clay George/GaDNR
** DNR senior wildlife biologist John Jensen swabs a striped newt at Fall Line Sandhills WMA. GaDNR

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