Friday, August 31, 2012

Introducing the Nature Nut’s Tech Corner

Illustration by Jean Bitting, 2012

Do you feel like your inner nature nut and techie geeks are at odds with each other? Are you looking for a fresh new way to explore nature?  Are you a technophobe looking for a way to start plugging in? Perhaps you wish you had a way to inspire today’s technologically bound youth to re-connect with the natural world surrounding them? Whatever your current relationship with the ever-changing world of technology might be, our new Nature Nut’s Tech Corner is the perfect resource to help you get your geek on with nature!  Visit us on the last Friday of each month, right here, as we spotlight a new field tested application.

Project Noah

We are kicking off our Nature Nut’s Tech Corner with Project Noah, which defines itself as a tool to explore and document wildlife. Project Noah acts as a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.  Named after an award-winning software program, Project Noah allows you to sign up using one of many popular internet homepages and social networking platforms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Twitter and more. Though originally designed to build a “digital butterfly net”, Project Noah now uses the popularity of mobile technologies to collect ecological data on all types of organisms, helping to preserve global biodiversity.

Project Noah has quickly become one of the most popular communities for nature exploration and documentation. Users can access the Project Noah website and mobile app to post photos of their finds, to ask community help in identifying specimens, and can even use the Map feature to check out what other users have spotted near them.

The Mission Page on
Project Noah for Android
Another exciting feature of Project Noah is the “Missions” feature. Users can contribute to and create missions- some of which involve serious scientific studies. The mission search allows you to search both globally and locally to get involved. A local search of St. Augustine reveals a mission centered around our own GTM Research Reserve. The GTM NERR Plant Hunt mission challenges local users to document as many plants as they can find within the reserve’s boundaries. Project Noah missions in Florida range from contributing to Invasive Plant studies to photographing Florida Orchids and other plant and wildlife species.

To unleash your Citizen Scientist download the Project Noah App for your iPhone or Android, get outside, and start exploring today!

Project Noah's Main
Page on Android
Project Noah's Map
Page on Android
Completing certain tasks in
Project Noah will award patches

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Adventures in the Estuary Summer Camp Success!

Were you looking for a way to reduce your child’s ‘sit-around-the-house time’ this summer? Did you hope to extend their learning throughout those months and get them up and active and exploring the world around them? Did you think to look to your local Research Reserve to help out?!

The GTM Research Reserve Education Center
 in Ponte Vedra Beach
The GTM Research Reserve not only provides stewardship of our natural & cultural resources and implements national-level long-term research, but also is committed to engaging and exciting people about estuaries and the animals and plants that inhabit them. One of the many exciting education programs at the GTM Research Reserve is the Adventures in the Estuary Summer Camp.

2012 brought the first long-term camp offered here at the GTM Research Reserve, which was held this summer. The camp allowed for students from grades 1 through 8 to participate in a hands-on adventure in the estuary. Students were able to build confidence and knowledge while conducting real estuarine science. The weeklong camp began with the students selecting a topic from a list of topics currently researched and monitored, and ended with a creative presentation of that topic to family, GTM Research Reserve staff, and fellow campers during a closing ceremony.
1st through 3rd grade campers conduct
research during the 2012 camp

The camp was met with great success as happy campers, parents, and staffers alike sang its praise:
  • “Thank you! Our girls loved it!”
  • “(Student) was excited about camp and had a great time! He asked if he could come back! Thank you!
  • “We had to drive an hour every morning but it was worth it!”
  • “I loved this camp!”
6th through 8th grade campers prepare to get
up close and personal with the beauty of the estuary
 in a kayak tour provided by Ripple Effects Ecotours
When surveyed, most campers even responded they would very much like to attend another camp! Based on this feedback you can anticipate seeing the Adventures in the Estuary Summer Camp as an annual opportunity each July, so be sure to add us to your summer activity planning!

Education at the GTM Research Reserve isn’t just for the school aged! For additional information on the various offerings of the Education Program (including teacher resources), visit us at:
3rd through 5th grade campers participating in a scavenger 
hunt at the GTM Research Reserve Education Center

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 Sea Turtle Hatching Update– Our Own Exciting ‘Triathlon’ Here at the GTM NERR

Approximately 120 Loggerhead hatchlings emerge naturally from nest GS025 at the GTM NERR. Photo courtesy of Irene Kaufman.

2012 Sea Turtle Hatching Update:

The 2012 sea turtle nesting season here at the GTM NERR has been very exciting so far. To date, our beaches have over 180 nests. While the number of nests is on target with last season, the timing of the nesting has had some interesting differences. The turtles began to nest early compared to recent years and as far as we can tell have consequently tapered off early as well.

While the baby turtles hatch, marine turtle volunteers conduct evening evaluations three days after the first signs emergence or after 70 days of incubation as a part of our Nesting Beach Survey. These evaluations are well underway this season, with roughly 60 nests already having been evaluated. We are encouraged about the success of this season so far since these nests are looking relatively well with an overall high hatching success rate. With all this activity taking place mid-nesting season, we wanted to take a moment to celebrate their success and reflect upon their journey thus far.

The Baby Sea Turtle Triathlon:

Most sea turtle species hatch in summer after a 45-70 day incubation period depending on species, clutch size, temperature, and humidity. In a way, their journey from nest to sea can be compared to an Olympic athletic event! Their “Triathlon” consists of:

·       Hatching & Emerging –

When a sea turtle hatches, it uses a carbuncle, or temporary egg tooth, to break open their leathery shell.  Once hatched, the dig begins! It can take three to seven days for these young turtles to finally dig their way to the surface.

·       The Crawl-

As if these ‘tri-athletes’ had not been tested enough during hatching & emerging, they still have to reach the ocean. It is theorized that a hatchling may use an internal magnetic compass to crawl towards sea, or that they may distinguish light intensities thus following the light toward the horizon. During this time they are exposed to predators such as birds and other animals, many hatchlings wait until night to emerge to reduce this exposure.

Loggerhead hatchlings of nest GS025 head toward the sea.
Photo courtesy of Irene Kaufman.

  • The Swimming Frenzy-

If a hatchling is able to successfully completes its crawl and reach the surf it will dive, riding the undertow to sea. There is a 24 to 48 hour “swimming frenzy” period during which they swim continuously. This is another vulnerable time for our young ‘athletes’ as they are open to exhaustion and predation. For the winners, the prize is a deep sea trip. It is not known for sure where they spend the next “lost year”- they are rarely seen.

 How you can help:

As you can see it is a long and difficult journey from nest to sea for sea turtle hatchlings. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, has stated that an estimated 75% of all sea turtle eggs laid will hatch.  Fewer will make it all the way to sexually mature adulthood- according to The Sea Turtle Conservancy and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, recent research estimates it at only 1 out of every 1000. We have some tips that can help us all reduce our own negative impact on their success:

If you see hatchlings emerging-
  • Provide plenty of distance between you and the nest.
  • Do not shine lights on or near hatchlings, this can disorient them and prevent them from reaching the ocean.
  • Enjoy the amazing event!

During nesting season (March through October on Florida’s Atlantic Coast)-
  • It is against the law to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests. Sea turtles are protected by both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act.
  • If you must be on the beach at night, limit your walking and do not use flashlights or flash photography.
  • If you live on the ocean, turn off outside patio lights and shield indoor lights from shining directly onto the beach by closing the drapes at night. Light may cause the female to abort the nesting process, or other sea turtles nearby may be discouraged from nesting if there are lights on the beach.
  • Avoid disturbing marked sea turtle nests.
  • Report signs of nesting to a GTM NERR employee so nests can be marked.
Don’t forget you can also adopt a sea turtle nest to support The GTM Research Reserve Sea Turtle Patrol Program. Your support will enable volunteers to increase awareness and continue their outreach and educational efforts. Through our outreach and education programs, we hope to have a long-lasting and meaningful impact on the sea turtle nesting population by:

  1. Reducing the disturbance and harassment of nesting sea turtles by educating the public about the hazards of night time beach activities and the importance of responsible beachfront lighting.
  2. Increasing the hatchling survival rate by educating the public of the dangers associated with beach obstructions on the beach and human intervention.
  3. Aiding injured sea turtles and returning them to their natural habitat.
For more information on the GTM NERR’s sea turtle research programs and conservation efforts, visit us at: .

Friday, August 3, 2012

“Gopher” the Gold- The Story of a True Olympian

A Florida gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) strolls the GTM NERR grounds.
In the midst of the 2012 summer Olympic Games, we present to you a true Olympian residing right here in the GTM NERR…the Florida gopher tortoise! Are you surprised? We realize that if you were asked to name a creature that lives up to the adjective ‘Olympian’, the Florida gopher tortoise may not be the first creature you think of- in fact, chances are it may not be on your mental list at all. Our goal today, however, is to challenge you to look a little more closely at this unassuming animal and how well it measures up to the title.

The word Olympian has many different definitions, among them is ‘exceptional’, ‘remarkable’, and even ‘far beyond what is usual in magnitude’. Are you unsure about how these apply to the Florida Gopher Tortoise? Bear with us just a moment longer while we explain. The gopher tortoise is known as a ‘keystone species’ in Florida. A “keystone species” means that it has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. Just as the top center stone in an archway prevents the structure from collapsing, the Florida gopher tortoise also plays a critical supporting role to the GTM NERR environment. There are two significant ways the Florida gopher tortoise impacts in our environment:
  • Returns leached nutrients to the soil and promotes seed dispersal through digging and grazing
  • Provides shelter for more than 350 other wildlife species, some of which are incapable of building their own

Florida gopher tortoises dig burrows ranging from 10 to 30 feet long in sandy soils for shelter. These burrows become a safe refuge protecting many creatures from storms, lightning, predators, and fires. A variety of species have been recorded that seek out the Florida gopher tortoise burrows for shelter; the list includes marsh rabbits, coachwhip snakes, cotton mice, raccoons, opossums, and armadillos. Some animals are known to be fully dependent on the carefully built burrows, such as the Gopher Frog and Florida Mouse, which have been known to spend their entire lives within it, creating a microhabitat. As you can see, the Florida gopher tortoise is truly remarkable, far beyond what is usual – the Olympian of the GTM NERR.

The Florida gopher tortoise is a "keystone species" whose ecological impact on many other species is great.

As with any Olympian, however, the Florida gopher tortoise is up against some tough competition. It is slow to reproduce, females not reaching sexual maturity until 10-15 years of age, and then only laying around 6 eggs each year. This coupled with auto traffic, human encroachment, and a number of predators have led the species to decline. Due to its importance and this decline, in Florida, the gopher tortoise is listed as a threatened species and its burrow is protected.

To help monitor and protect the Florida gopher tortoise, GTM NERR management practices and conservation measures include:
Control burning in the tortoises’ fire-dependent communities (tortoises can escape fire by remaining in their burrows)
  • Gathering facts on population status and documenting population trends on managed lands;
  • Conducting surveys of active and inactive burrows and mark locations by GPS
  • Learning about short- and long-term effects of management practices to share with partner agencies and land managers
During the 2011-2012 survey, which was recently completed, we recorded 232 Florida gopher tortoise burrows on the beach and dune areas of the GTM NERR, of which 192 were actively being used by the tortoises.  On the peninsula we recorded 247 burrows, of which 148 were actively used by the tortoises.  These numbers show the promise of a fairly stable and even growing population in some areas, but more is yet to be done- especially as we continue to study commensals, or dependent species.

Opossum captured by motion activated camera.
 Bobcat scent marking a burrow.

We would be amiss if we did not take a moment to thank our volunteers who help to make this research possible. For the 2011-2012 survey, 25 dedicated GTM NERR volunteers contributed more than 375 hours surveying the peninsula. An Olympic sized THANK YOU goes out to each of them.

To learn more about the Florida gopher tortoise research and conservation efforts by the GTM NERR, visit us at

Thursday, August 2, 2012

NERRA support for GTM Friends' position

Adopted Sea Turtle Nest N77, GTM Research Reserve, August 2012 (C) Angela Christensen
Under the leadership of its president, Chris Rich, the Friends of the GTM Reserve recently took a position on an issue that's controversial to some, and a simple common sense matter to others. The Friends have taken critism from some corners, and received support from others, incluing NERRA. The issue is connected to the National Park Service's management plan for Fort Matanzas National Monument, whose lands and waters are adjacent to those of the southern portion of the GTM NERR.

So what does this mean, and what the heck is NERRA, anyway? They're the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, and include NERRs from all over the country. Here's a quote from their site: "NERRA was established in 1987 and is dedicated to the protection, understanding, and science-based management of our nation’s estuaries—the valuable areas where the river meets the sea." What do they have in common? If you're reading this, you probably have an interest in the protection of the area that used to be Guana State Park, and today is the GTM NERR, where our rivers meet the sea. If you share that interest, please take a look at NERRA's post, and please make your own voice heard by commenting at the National Park Service site.

The Friends of the GTM Reserve are deeply grateful for the support of NERRA's membership nationwide as we share the mission of education, research and stewardship of these precious and delicate resources. And the Friends thank you - for reading, for thinking, for speaking your mind, and for joining your voices in a resounding chorus of protection for these resources. Adopt a Sea Turtle Nest of your own today!