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Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins

Loggerhead sea turtles return to the beaches of the South Atlantic coast each year in late spring to begin nesting. The annual Lights Out campaign runs from May 1 – October 31 in order to encompass all of nesting season which can extend into August, and the roughly 60 days it takes for eggs to hatch. Each barrier island has a team of volunteers ready to walk the beach each morning in search of turtle tracks and to document when and where a sea turtle makes her nest. The first loggerhead nest in South Carolina this year came on May 8, right in the Lowcountry on Dafuskie Island near Hilton Head.

It’s worth noting that the first S.C. loggerhead nest of 2018 is confirmed in the South Lowcountry, because most years the first nest is in the northern range along Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge. The second loggerhead sea turtle nest came the next day on May 9 on Kiawah Island. Cooler than normal water temperatures due to the prolonged spring may have delayed nesting season for a few days, but now that the weather has become more tropical it is time for increased nesting behavior.

In fact, sea turtle sightings along coastal waters have been frequent this Spring, raising hopes for another record year for sea turtle nests. Michelle Pate coordinates the sea turtle program for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, sharing that nest numbers are gradually rising in neighboring states too. This past decade has seen many record years with 2017 recording 5,251 sea turtle nests. Loggerhead turtles make the majority of those nests but the smaller green sea turtles accounted for 18 nests last year, which is a record in S.C. for their species. Other sea turtles with occasional nests in S.C. include the large leatherback sea turtles and Kemp’s ridleys sea turtles.

Increasing numbers of sea turtles on the beaches means that more interaction with the public is possible. Keeping in mind that people should always respect sea turtles by keeping a safe distance from them on the beach, these record numbers offer more teachable moments when its comes to education and conservation. For instance, did you know that sea turtles like to eat jellyfish, and that pollution in the water like plastic bags and balloons can be detrimental to any sea turtle that mistakenly consumes that refuse.

The South Carolina State Park at Edisto Beach offers organized educational outings that coordinate with sea turtle nesting season, providing an excellent way to learn more about sea turtle interaction. The annual Turtlefest on Saturday June 2 runs from 10 to 12 in the morning at the beachfront shelters at Edisto State Park. This family friendly event features exhibits, games, crafts and even some live animals that serve to educate about the marine ecosystem. Turtlefest is free with park admission, and includes a visit to the beach where park rangers will demonstrate techniques they use to monitor sea turtle nests.

The interpretive staff at Edisto Beach State Park offers guided night walks to look for nesting sea turtles every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in June and July. World Sea Turtle Day is observed on Saturday June 16, 2018. Advance registration is required as spots fill up quickly, and these walks include a fee of $10 for children and $15 for ages 16 and up. Souvenir t-shirts are available for $15 and the guided walks run from 9 to 11 nightly. For more information or to reserve a spot call Edisto Beach State Park at 843-869-4430. Each session begins with a short meeting to discuss safety tactics such as using a red filter on flashlights to reduce distraction if any sea turtles are encountered.

Witnessing a large 300-pound loggerhead sea turtle at night on the beach is an experience that triggers an emotional response for some. Their ancient cycle of life continues to succeed using only a ribbon of beach for nesting, and then spending the remainder of their life in the open ocean. As technology evolves, scientists are using DNA extracted from eggshells to track generations of female loggerheads that return to specific beaches over time. When the sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest, they are ingrained on that particular beach, giving them a place they can call home if and when they return to nest as a mature sea turtle in the future.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (360 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com