Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hammocks Beach State Park Field Trip

Grace is on the Turtle Team at school and two of the Turtle Team classes went on a field trip today to Hammocks Beach State Park . The Hammocks Beach park staff participates in a sea turtle monitoring program regulated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission. From June to August, the beaches are patrolled nightly as the staff gathers the necessary data. Soft red lights, which the turtles cannot see, are used instead of harsh, bright ones so the animals are not disturbed. The turtles are then tagged and nests are marked and covered with a wire screen for protection from predators. Hatched nests are inventoried to determine a hatching percentage. All information obtained provides a database to justify specific conservation laws.

When we first got there, one of the park rangers gave a great presentation on the different sea turtles and how they feed, nest, hatch and survive. The kids were great and were able to answer so many of her questions. Out of eight types of sea turtles found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, five kinds may be found off the coast of North Carolina - the Leatherback, Atlantic Ridley, Green Turtle, Hawksbill and the Loggerhead.

After the presentation and looking around in the museum, we took a ferry over to Bear Island which is located between Bear and Bogue inlets and forms the major part of Hammocks Beach State Park. This barrier island is unique for its location, size and lack of development. It contains over three and a half miles of unspoiled beach. It is this characteristic that makes Bear Island an ideal nesting beach, especially for the loggerhead sea turtle.

Loggerhead sea turtles have an average shell length of three feet and weigh about 300 pounds. Loggerheads can be found in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean. The nesting beaches of the loggerhead are usually outside the tropics. In the United States, the nesting range extends from North Carolina to Florida. The coastline of Hammocks Beach State Park is a popular nesting beach for the loggerhead sea turtle from late May until August. Between sunset and sunrise, the female will crawl ashore to locate a suitable nesting site. After digging a shallow body pit, she will use her hind flippers to hollow out a pear-shaped egg chamber in the sand. The turtle will then deposit an average of 120 leathery, white eggs - similar in shape to a ping-pong ball. While she is nesting, tears can be seen streaming from her eyes. it was one believed this was from the pain of laying numerous eggs or the sadness of leaving offspring behind. It actually is a process the turtle uses to rid herself of excess salt. When the last egg drops into the nest, the female will use her flippers to throw sand over them. This protects the eggs and hides them from predators. The female then crawls back into the ocean, never to return to that nest. She will, however, return to the beach to nest again, as many as four times in one nesting season.

The sun-warmed sand incubates the eggs for approximately 60 days. After breaking out of the eggs, the hatchlings emerge from the nest. During the cooler temperatures, after sunset, the hatchlings, will dig out of the nest in a combined effort. Although the hatching at night decreases the chance of birds swooping down to catch the young turtles, hungry ghost crabs are abundant. Guided by the white of the crashing waves, the turtles crawl towards the ocean. Once there, the baby hatchlings enter the stage of their lives referred to as the "lost years" because it is not known exactly where they go for the next one to three years. It is believed they store energy and swim for several days until reaching large floating mats of sargassum, seaweed from the Sargasso Sea, which carries them away. As the turtles mature, they migrate to feeding grounds - from shallow coastal waters to oceanic depths of 60 meters. The loggerhead sea turtle can live up to 100 years.

After the ferry ride, it was about a 15 minute walk to actually get down to the beach where we walked along the shore looking for sand dollars and seashells. On the ferry ride back, the park ranger asked the kids different questions and gave them each a beautiful unique sea shell to those who answered correctly. Grace won a sea shell called the shark's eye by answering the question "what color can turtles not see" and the answer was red. When we got back to the main building, we had a picnic lunch and headed back to school.

What a great field trip! Thanks Mrs. Snyder!

Mrs. Snyder and her class

Maria, Carly, Grace and Katie

Carly, Katie and Grace

Grace's class has been studying storms and hurricanes in science.

Grace, Carly and Carly's Mom, Erin on the ferry

One of the students found some sea weed so they all felt and smelled it and Mrs. Snyder got it to bring back to class.

Mrs. Snyder and Grace

Grace with her Shark's Eye shell that she won

1 comment:

~Erin said...

What a great day!!! I had so much fun.....