by Jessica Edwards
This summer I was fortunate enough to be one of six interns out at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center located in Georgetown, South Carolina. I worked there from May to August and got to know the property and the people who work there very well.
The Yawkey Center sits on around 24,000 acres of land, and 15,000 to 18,000 acres of this land are actively being managed for various species of wildlife, including red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW) and loggerhead sea turtles, both listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Overall this summer was extremely instrumental in helping me network with people who I could someday work for or with.
My first week at Tom Yawkey I worked with Caroline Causey, who is the current RCW project leader for SCDNR. She was there to check the Yawkey Centers’ 16 RCW clusters for nest-cavity activity. Shortly after that I was introduced to Dr. Thomas Rainwater, a Clemson University Baruch Institute of Ecology and Forest Science wildlife biologist who is a part of a 35-year study on alligator growth and reproduction. I was fortunate enough to be able to go out with him on multiple occasions to inventory and check alligator nests around the property. Eventually, toward the end of my internship, I met the Turtles Techs who I personally refer to as “Turtle People.”
This summer my favorite thing to do was going out with the turtle people. Most Tuesdays, I got to work alongside one of the island’s three Turtle Techs, Shannon Borowy. When I worked with them, I was able to stay the night on the island which is neat because you get a completely different experience versus being there during the daytime. In the morning we all would wake up at around 5:15 a.m., and by 5:30 a.m. we were already on our way to the beach. Once on the beach the group split up – one goes to Sand Island while the other goes to South Island.
I personally enjoyed going to Sand Island, which is how I always ended up with Shannon. We always kayaked over there and would load up everything on the ATV then head out to look for nests. When we found a nest, we took the GPS reading, probed for the nest cavity, and took one egg for research. With the egg shell, they can actually determine which mother turtle laid that specific nest. If there was no nest cavity or if there was only tracks we labeled those false crawls and then put them into the GPS Garmin as well.
Then came the tedious part of putting a cage on the nest. You first had to unfold the cage and use c-ring crimps to hold the bars together. Then after digging about a foot down, we placed the cage, making sure the side with the horizontal bars is facing the water so that when the turtles hatch they can get out. After that, we buried the cage and put a yellow flag with the date and nest number from when it was originally found, in case the actual marker itself went missing.
Although my internship as well as turtle nesting season has come to end, I still go out and volunteer on most Fridays. I am extremely thankful to Horry Georgetown Technical College and the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center for making such a great opportunity available to me. Because of them, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to continue my work with sea turtles and possibly become Turtle People myself in the near future. Thank you!
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.