Volunteer loggerhead patrol and nest protection program on Fripp Island, South Carolina, USA

Anthony Natoli,1 Karen Natoli,1 and Charles Tambiah 2

1 Fripp Island Loggerhead Patrol, 17 Fiddlers Trace, Fripp Island, South Carolina 29920, USA
2 Community Participation and Integrated Sea Turtle Conservation Initiative,
West Ryde, NSW 2114, Australia

The beaches of South Carolina, USA, are important nesting areas for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Seventy percent of turtle nests in the state are protected by 20 independent projects. Over 700 people participate in these projects, 97 percent of whom take part in a voluntary capacity. The active participation of these volunteers is crucial to sea turtle conservation in South Carolina. The Fripp Island Turtle Nest Protection Program is one of 10 voluntary turtle projects in the state.

Location. Fripp Island is located along the east coast of South Carolina. It is primarily a private residential community, but is also a popular resort island during the summer months. Over 800 residents and 3000 visitors use the island each year. The island has been subjected to high erosion. Due to rock revetments there is currently only one mile of useable beachfront where sea turtle nesting takes place.

 Nesting activity. As with other projects in the state, nest numbers on Fripp have been declining through the years. In recent years an average of 40 loggerhead turtle nests are laid on Fripp each year during the nesting period (May to August). The average hatch success on the island is 80 percent. Approximately 3000 hatchlings emerge from the protected nests each year between July and September. Tidal erosion and over-wash due to low-lying areas along the beach, hatching disorientation due to beachfront lighting, and depredation by ghost crabs are the only direct impacts on turtle nests in recent years. During the 2001 nesting season 43 nests were laid on Fripp, 12 percent of which were completely eroded away and 47 percent of which were over-washed. Of this nest total 23 percent were left "in situ" and 65 percent were relocated. The average hatch success of the nests that survived through incubation was 82 percent, with the hatch success for "in situ" nests being 74 percent and for relocated nests being 85 percent. The average clutch size was 116 eggs (range 79-164 eggs).

Turtle volunteers. Volunteer turtle conservation activities began on Fripp in 1979. Currently about 20 volunteer participate each year, a majority of whom are permanent residents of the island. College interns who work with Fripp's Nature Center have also contributed to sea turtle project activities. Volunteers participate in a variety of tasks from daily patrols to education. The leaders of the project conduct an intensive training program at the beginning of each season to ensure standardized methodologies and to maintain state guidelines for sea turtle nest management. Volunteers carry letters of authorization under the permit held by the project leader, which allow them to carry out approved activities. On average, volunteers have at least two years of experience working with turtle nest protection activities. Awareness, enthusiasm and dedication of volunteers are maintained through group meetings, information and slide presentations, and potluck dinners.

Beach patrol and nest protection. Each morning a rostered group of volunteers patrol the beach on foot to locate, identify, and record any turtle crawls from the previous night. Each crawl is evaluated for the presence of a clutch of eggs by carefully probing the nest area. Each nest, when found, is marked off with flagging tape so as to identify locations for future reference and to alert beach-goers of areas that are protected and therefore to be avoided. While nests are left "in situ" as much as possible, nests that may be in danger of tidal erosion or inundation are relocated to the next best available site closest to the original nest location. (During the 2001 season 65 percent of ail nests laid on Fripp were relocated.) All nests are monitored during daily patrols, and information including depredation and tidal over-wash are recorded through the use of a centrally 1ocated logbook.

Hatchling emergence and nest inventories. During daily patrols nests are also monitored for signs of hatchling emergence. Once emergence is complete, nest contents are inventoried to determine hatch success rates by comparing empty eggshells with unhatched eggs. If any hatchlings are trapped within the egg chamber they are released with great care and least disturbance. The emergence of these trapped hatchlings provide invaluable education opportunities and are often viewed by many volunteers and visitors.

Strandings. Unfortunately live or dead strandings of sea turtles happen on occasion, and when they do, measurements and other information are recorded. Live, yet hurt or weak strandings are handed over to state biologists, veterinarians, and aquariums for care and subsequent release. Selected volunteers on Fripp and neighboring islands are members of the Sea Turtle Stranding Network that assist state and federal agencies with managing strandings that appear on the island.

. Education is viewed as a critical part of the project activities, and the project's philosophy has been to provide the public with any available information on sea turtles and nests found on Fripp. Guests are regularly engaged in discussion during the daily patrols and other nest management activities.

Children are especially encouraged to participate in discussions and to observe turtle activities, as they are vital to present and future conservation of the sea turtle and all other wildlife. The Nature Center on Fripp has also provided educational activities for a variety of ages, including several sea turtle and beach related programs. Crowd control or disturbance by the public has not been a problem on Fripp.
 As a result of the education and publicity developed by the project, the volunteers, beyond their regular patrols, can rely on the observations of the public at large for information on nesting loggerheads and nest emergences. The turtle project participates in a variety of community activities as wel1, and as a result is well known on the island. Ongoing collaborations with international initiatives have brought a range of sea turtle presentations and discussions, which have benefited project volunteers and island residents in understanding sea turtle and conservation related issues beyond Fripp Island.

Visitor logbook
. At a central point along the beach, a logbook is maintained for comments and observations from volunteers and visitors. Volunteers log daily records and visitors write in comments about their sea turtle related experiences. Visitors view such notes in the logbook as an opportunity to become a part of what is happening on Fripp by being able to contribute with their experiences while on the island. Volunteers encourage visitor input as it assists volunteers to know what is happening on the beach when they are unable to be there Adults and children alike have written many heart-warming stories, thus increasing the appreciation for the work done by the volunteers as well as the need to conserve the turtles.

Project website and volunteer e-mail network. The Fripp Island Loggerhead Protection Program maintains an active website which was developed to share data with anyone who might have any interest in the loggerhead turtle. The website includes information about nests laid on Fripp, a turtle related photo gallery, as well as other turtle links. Many from around the world have visited the website. Through the website requests have been received from people from other locations interested in becoming part of the Fripp turtle project. Website recruits have traveled over 100 miles on a weekly basis to be a part of the turtle program on Fripp. In addition to the website, active volunteers and other close associates are interconnected through an e-mail network which assists with daily communication, keeping everyone informed of nest activity and news.

Lights-out campaign. Beachfront lighting, as a result of houses along the entire beach, has contributed to some disorientation of hatchlings during emergence. To address this problem, a "Lights Out For Sea Turtles" Campaign was initiated. Volunteers visit house residents, explain the disorientation issue, and request their cooperation in turning off their beachfront lights' Information flyers are also issued at guest check in, at a central post on the beach, and in resident mailboxes. The Fripp information TV channel carries a public service announcement for the entire turtle season on the issue. Despite these education efforts, Light pollution on the beach and the disorientation of hatchlings is a concern. Previous challenges to reducing beach lighting include voluntary compliance and a high turnover of visitors using rental properties. A recent Barrier island Beach-Dune Lighting Standard, which restricts beachfront lighting, will hopefully give the project's Lights-Out Campaign more validity and assist in reducing disorientation. Information on this new ordinance and on window-film used to reduce the visibility of indoor lighting is provided to residents and the public through the Nature Center on the island.

Support and funding. The Fripp turtle project is maintained entirely by the personal contributions and time of the volunteers. Often small donations have been received for purchasing vital supplies and materials. In recent years community organizations and local businesses, some of which are associated with individual volunteers, such as the Creek View Studio, Fripp Island Audubon Club, and ISLC {a local internet provider), have been of great assistance to the project, The project has also begun the production and sale of turtle t-shirts to fund some expenses in order to avoid the burden falling on volunteers who are already giving of their time. Tax-deductible donations to the project have been facilitated through the Fripp Island Audubon Club.

. The authors wish to thank the volunteers of the Fripp Island Loggerhead Turtle Patrol for their perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm, and support on a daily basis during the Loggerhead nesting season. Several visitors to Fripp Island have also participated in our activities and shared their turtle stories and experiences. C. Tambiah wishes to thank the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Sea Turtle Symposium, the "Art for Conservation" Initiative, and the Community Participation and Integrated Sea Turtle Conservation Initiative for travel, logistical, and collaboration support. The Fripp Island Loggerhead Patrol conducts sea turtle conservation activities in keeping with state issued guidelines and under a permit from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

View Video Presentation