As the Tide Turns:Discover the drama, mystery, and intrigue of our tidal shores.
As summer unfolds along coastal Georgia, new life blossoms on our beaches. From nesting sea turtles and horseshoe crabs to Wilson’s plovers and shorebirds of all shapes and sizes, our sandy shores provide abundant opportunities to give birth to the next generation of our treasured wildlife.
Walking along the beach this summer, we hope you take the time to marvel at this array of new life made possible by the natural wonders of coastal Georgia. And while you do, please remember to observe from afar and give these magnificent creatures the respect and admiration they deserve.
Wonders to Spot This Summer:
Sea Turtles, Cheloniidae
Sea turtle nesting has begun in Georgia. Every year from May to August, females leave our waters and climb to their nesting sites under the cover of darkness. The most common nesting sea turtle on our shores is the loggerhead, Caretta caretta, but we are also occasionally graced by tropical nesters including the green turtle, Chelonia mydas, and the leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea. After depositing their eggs, incubation takes about eight weeks before hatchling turtles emerge and make their way towards the ocean.
Fun Fact: Female sea turtles lay eggs only after reaching maturity at roughly 30-35 years old.
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab, Limulus polyphemus
Between May and June along coastal Georgia, horseshoe crabs emerge on our shores during the full and new moon. Males patrol the shore waters for a mate and, when she is found, the female horseshoe crab drags the male onto our sandy beaches to form a shallow nest. Once on shore, the female deposits seven clumps of 2000-4000 eggs and the male fertilizes them. The larvae then hatch during the high tide. Keep an eye out for these ‘living fossils.’ Their ancestors date back almost 450 million years (200 million years before the first dinosaurs!)
Fun fact: Horseshoe crabs are not crabs at all. They are more closely related to arachnids (a group that includes spiders and scorpions) than crustaceans.
American Oystercatcher, Haematopus palliatus
True to its name, the oystercatcher feeds on oysters, clams, and mussels. During the summer breeding season, adult males make several nests and line each with shells and pebbles before deciding on just the right nest. Once they find a mate, oystercatchers are monogamous. During the breeding season, the female lays between one and four eggs, the new chicks emerging after 24-39 days to scamper along our beaches.
Fun fact: One recorded study found that a monogamous pair of oystercatchers defended the same nesting site for 20 years.
Wilson’s Plover, Charadrius wilsonia
A coastal wader, the Wilson’s plover nests on our shores in isolated pairs or loose colonies. Males perform ritualized nest-scrapping, posturing with their wings dropped, and their tails low and spread. Once a female is attracted, pairs nest near conspicuous objects such as driftwood or clumps of grass. Like the oystercatcher, males make several nests lined with pebbles, shells, and beach grass before the female chooses just the right one. Pairs of Wilson’s plovers lay between two to four eggs. After 23-35 days, downy young leave the nest soon after hatching and take to flight around 21 days later.
Fun fact: Wilson’s plovers share incubation and child rearing. During incubation, males take the night shift while females incubate the eggs during the day. After hatching, both parents tend to their young.
As you take the time to observe and enjoy the abundance of new life on our shores, please follow these simple guidelines to protect our newborns:
• Stay in high-traffic beach areas.
• Walk below the high-tide line or on wet-sand beaches.
• Avoid posted nesting sites.
• Observe wildlife from a distance.
• Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash.
• Turn off lights or draw curtains near the beach. (Artificial lights confuse sea turtles and their hatchlings).