CHARLESTON COUNTY/GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD)- The first two sea turtle nests of 2023 were located on Tuesday morning, just one day after the ‘official’ start of nesting season in South Carolina.

Sea turtle tracks lead to one of the first sea turtle nests of the season on South Island in Georgetown County. (Photo: Corinne Johnston/SCDNR)

Officials with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) found a loggerhead nest at Yawkey Wildlife Center on South Island. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official found another loggerhead nest at Cape Romain National Wildlife Regue on North Cape Island.

According to SCDNR, both nests follow ‘false crawls’ — tracks indicating a female sea turtle had come ashore but did not lay eggs — spotted Monday on each island.

There are four species of sea turtles that nest on South Carolina beaches, but loggerheads are the most common nester, according to experts. The other species are greens, kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks.

The South Carolina nesting season begins on May 1 and lasts until October 31. SCDNR reported that 7,996 sea turtle nests were counted in South Carolina last year, marking the second-highest year since the agency began keeping records.

Nest numbers across the Southeast have trended up over the past decade, indicating some success in recent conservation efforts.

“We’re optimistic, but nest numbers have not reached Loggerhead Recovery Plan benchmarks, and the species is not out of the woods just yet,” SCDNR biologist Michelle Pate, who leads the agency’s sea turtle nesting and stranding program said. “Long-term monitoring of these long-lived species needs to continue to ensure current management continues to work.”

An average sea turtle clutch contains about 120 eggs that hatch after approximately 60 days. Nesting females typically nest every two weeks, laying up to six nests per season.

Beachgoers are encouraged to keep artificial lights and beachfront property lights off at night during nesting season as they can confuse hatchlings and nesting mothers.

Sea turtles are protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act. Disturbing, harming, or interfering with sea turtles or their nests can result in fines of up to $25,000 and up to a year in prison.