It’s official: Sea turtle nesting season is underway in South Carolina

Charleston County News

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CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Sea turtle nesting season is underway along the South Carolina coast.

According to SCDNR, the state’s official nesting season runs from May 1st through October 31st each year, and the first nest is right on cue.

Biologists with SCDNR located a nest which had been laid sometime Thursday night through the early morning hours on Friday on Lighthouse Island.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife sea turtle technician Billy Shaw discovered the nest Friday morning within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the site of South Carolina’s densest sea turtle nesting.

Nesting in South Carolina typically starts soon after Georgia’s first nesting report, which occurred on Saturday, April 25, 2020.

“Staff and volunteers are very excited to celebrate the official opening of sea turtle season,” said Michelle Pate, SCDNR sea turtle biologist. “This year has been an especially difficult one for all of us globally, and we welcome the seasonal return of these ancient creatures back to South Carolina’s nesting beaches.” Pate added that she expects a productive season, though not reaching the level of nesting seen in 2019.

SCDNR said South Carolina celebrated a record-breaking season in 2019 where sea turtles laid the greatest number of nests ever recorded in a season.

Volunteers and biologists counted 8,802 nests in South Carolina, which represented a 37% increase over the previous record set in 2016.

The ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis is expected to reshape sea turtle nest protection efforts this year, according to DNR.

Over 1,300 volunteers from 30 different nest protection programs typically spend the summer months patrolling South Carolina’s beaches each morning for crawls, the telltale tracks left by a female sea turtle as it trundles ashore.

These volunteers and biologists meticulously identify, count, and protect these nests throughout the season until they hatch, after which time nests are inventoried to collect additional data.

However, due to current guidelines meant to safeguard employee and community safety, the volunteer network has been restricted until beaches across the state fully reopen and state employees are permitted to fully return to the field.

SCDNR says four sea turtle species nest on South Carolina beaches: loggerheads, greens, Kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks. Loggerhead nests comprise the vast majority of the state’s total number each year, but 2019 saw 20 green sea turtle nests and one Kemp’s ridley nest (only the fourth in the state’s history). All four sea turtle species are classified as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act, in addition to local and state ordinances.

Sea turtle clutches average 120 eggs and hatch after approximately 60 days. Nesting females may remain in South Carolina waters and continue to nest every two weeks, laying up to six nests per season. Throughout this stressful time, the turtles also abstain from eating.

South Carolina beachgoers can help the state’s sea turtles by keeping beaches clean, turning beachfront lights out to avoid disorienting turtles, and giving all sea turtles and nests a wide and respectful berth when encountered on the beach.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Reminders

  • Report all sick/injured/dead sea turtles and nest disturbances to the SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431 so that staff/volunteers can respond as soon as possible.
  • Respect boating laws and boat cautiously, especially in small tidal creeks where sea turtles like to feed. Boat strikes have emerged as the leading cause of death for sea turtles in South Carolina.
  • Keep artificial lights off the beach at night during nesting season – this includes beachfront property lights and flash photography, which can disorient nesting mothers and hatchlings.
  • Always respect sea turtles by observing them from a distance on the beach. Individuals that violate federal law by harming or interfering with sea turtles or their nests can be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 and up to a year’s imprisonment.
  • Keep our beaches and ocean clean by avoiding single-use plastics. Plastic bags and balloons are among the most common trash items found on South Carolina beaches and can cause injury or death when sea turtles mistake them for food.
  • Promote and support our program for continued conservation of sea turtles in South Carolina.

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