Following Former Intern’s Adventures

DHEC stream team with Wingate University interns at Thompson Creek

Our former intern from Francis Marion University, Morgan Warner, discovered her love of field work during her internship in the spring of 2023. She went on to have an amazing summer and fall of field research in a very different environment – the beaches of the Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia. Here is her story about studying nesting sea turtles. We hope she continues to follow her passion for field work and sharing facts about our natural world.

Sea Turtle Nesting Study

My name is Morgan Warner and I am a recent graduate from Francis Marion University. During my senior year I worked at Carolina Wildlands on a small mammal trapping project to determine the biodiversity of the area. After having that experience, I knew I wanted to continue in the wildlife field and began looking for more opportunities after graduation.

After graduating from Francis Marion University in May 2023, I moved to Cumberland Island National Seashore to work as one of the sea turtle interns for the May to October turtle nesting season.

From May through August, my coworker and I were in charge of daily beach surveys to search for new nests. We found the nests by looking for the tracks of the female turtle after she came out of the ocean to lay the nest, and then return to the water. You can determine which species of sea turtle was on the beach by observing the tracks and body pit of the nest. You can also observe which track was the “in” and “out” (basically which direction the turtle was walking which helps with locating the egg chamber). We also relocated any nest that was laid too close to the high tide line.

Hatching season.

Hatching season began in mid-August and ran through mid-October. We would look for little hatchling tracks coming from a nest. When it was determined that a nest had hatched, we would wait 5 days and then go back to the nest to dig it up and count the eggshells to determine the hatch success and emergence success. This season we had 1,082 nests on Cumberland Island. This is the second biggest year they have recorded.

Morgan and baby turtles.

Morgan and baby turtles.

I enjoyed every second of this seasonal internship. Being able to see all my hard work of finding and relocating nests pay off by being able to witness the hatching season was amazing. I cannot wait to come back to Cumberland Island in future years and see how the sea turtle population benefits by the work performed by each sea turtle technician on the coast. It was amazing to be able to say my “office” for the past 6 months was the beach.

I learned so much from this experience and so thankful for everyone on Cumberland Island, as well as everyone at Carolina Wildlands who gave me the opportunity to discover my love for research. Thank you!

Author: Morgan Warner