Every morning this summer Rome native Anna Taylor has gotten up at dawn in search of turtle tracks.
Taylor is serving as a sea turtle technician for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, patrolling the beaches of Little Cumberland Island.
When she finds a new nest, Taylor tries to remove one egg to collect a DNA sample to determine the identity of the turtle that laid the eggs. Then, Taylor makes a determination as to whether or not the eggs are safe from the tide or need to be moved.
The average nest will include 115 eggs but can range from 80-150 according to Taylor. She said that only one in 4,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.
“Loggerhead sea turtles are predominant nesters on the Georgia coast, and, so far, I have only gotten loggerhead nests,” Taylor said.
If the nest is safe, she covers it to reduce the potential disturbance by other animals or humans. “If I have to relocate the nest, I carefully remove each egg from the nest, then dig a hole as similar to the original nest as possible, and carefully place the eggs in the new nest,” Taylor said. “I then place a screen, post, and gather GPS points from both areas.”
She counts the eggs as she removes them, and again as she buries them.
Five days after the first hatchlings appear on the beach, Taylor returns to the nest to determine how many of the eggs hatched and if there are any live or dead hatchlings in the nest.
It’s not unusual to see residents of Little Cumberland Island residents to join her on an occasional patrol of the beaches just to see how their turtle population is doing.
Russell Regnery, director of the Little Cumberland Island sea turtle project, started in the early 1960s. It is the oldest sea turtle nesting monitoring program in the world.
“That’s one of the things that makes Anna’s job so interesting and important,” Regnery said. “Although there are other islands on the coast that have more turtles, we have the longest data set.”
One loggerhead sea turtle, Regnery said, has been returning to the area for 36 years to lay eggs.
Taylor said sea turtles are great indicators of marine health. A fact sheet published by the Sea Turtle Conservancy indicates the various species are in danger because of human impact on the oceans and beaches.
And the turtles give back to the ecosystem.
Nutrients that are carried in the sea turtle eggs help the beach and sand dune ecosystems grow stronger.
Without healthy vegetation and root systems, beach erosion would become an even greater concern.
Taylor said she will remain on Little Cumberland monitoring the sea turtle activity well into October. After that, her plans are not as well defined.
“I want to continue contributing to conservation along the Georgia coast, whether I am performing research or serving as a naturalist,” Taylor said. She said that raising public awareness of the coastal ecosystem in Georgia and promoting healthy environments for wildlife are among her priorities.
She said she hopes to have a career with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, either with the Wildlife Resources Division or the Coastal Resources Division.
This summer, she is a paid seasonal employee of the Georgia DNR on Little Cumberland Island.
Taylor received a bachelor of science degree with a major in fisheries and wildlife from the University of Georgia in 2012. Three years later, she completed her master’s of science in wildlife ecology and management at UGA.
Her father, Tommy Taylor, said he knew after his daughter’s first trip to the beach around the age of 4 that her interest in the marine world would be something to which she would devote her life.
In addition to her work with sea turtles, Taylor has also worked with the Georgia Dolphin Ecology Program for five years, helping them answer questions about bottlenose dolphin ecology.