Sapelo Island Week Three

Sea oats have everything you are looking for looking for in a plant: shade tolerance, perenniality, general hardiness. They provide food for small mammals and birds, can be used for bird nesting material, and host Skipper butterfly caterpillars. Gardeners and home decorators are encouraged to purchase sea oat seeds from nurseries rather than pick their own because of their critical role of protecting coastlines from rising tides. At Sapelo Island, sea oats line the dunes along the shore where the Atlantic Ocean meets the land. But don’t be fooled by the soft of the appearance of the grass – cacti lie in wait for unsuspecting feet along the shore, too! The best spot to view the oceanscape is actually right beside the crashing waves, with salty mist coating your lips and water lapping just around your ankles. The biting gnats and mosquitos never go this far out. The sharks won’t come this far in. It’s only you and the ocean.

Naturally, this would have been the last post that I ever wrote about Sapelo Island following my two previous trips, which you can read about here and here. I am happy to write that I will be continuing my work at the island due to an extension approved by my advisor. This will allow me to collect enough data for a meaningful analysis as part of my dissertation research. I’ve only analyzed one month of data at this point but there is a lot of work to do and a small chance that my initial theory was correct. This is exciting stuff for a graduate student!

Sign that says, "lights out! sea turtles dig the dark. red lights only, may to october."
Red lights keep distractions to a minimum for nesting turtles.

The sea turtles managed to evade me on every single visit this summer. There was only one nest in view of the beach. It had been dug up and eaten by someone, presumably a hungry island raccoon. I can’t remember if I have mentioned the raccoons before, but they are very slender and mostly keep to themselves. It is possible there is a distinct type of raccoon at the island given the records of supposedly different subspecies, but detailed observations and ways to tell different types apart are limited. The alligators and frogs there are all small too. Contrary to the laid-back island attitude, life on the island must not be easy for some of the animals.

Waves touch the sandy dunes at the coast of Sapelo Island.

The main part of Georgia seemed to cool down in August. The island didn’t. A chart of the island air temperature throughout the summer probably looks like an exponential curve. When we were out recording canopy temperatures on the marsh our machine flashed the numbers “108” Fahrenheit. That translates to 42° Celsius, in the grass. That means it was hot even for the grasshoppers. Despite my heart palpitating and my brow dripping sweat like a leaky sink, we finished our task for the day and retired to our shaded dormitories as a reward. Each of the dormitories comes with its own shower, which is much needed after a day of fieldwork in the hot southern sun.

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