SC’s first sea turtle nest of the year spotted in Charleston County

Volunteers for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources spotted signs of the first...
Volunteers for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources spotted signs of the first sea turtle nest of the year on Seabrook Island Wednesday morning.(Provided to SCDNR)
Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 1:11 PM EDT
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SEABROOK ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - Volunteers say they spotted the first signs of a sea turtle nest of the year in Charleston County Wednesday morning.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reported the discovery along a beach on Seabrook Island, approximately 20 miles south of Charleston.

Volunteers Sandy MacCross and Lucy Hoover saw a crawl and found the nest, according to a release from DNR.

“Our staff and nest protection volunteers have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the season’s first nest marking the return of these ancient reptiles,” SCDNR biologist Michelle Pate, who oversees the agency’s sea turtle nesting program, said. “We’re hopeful for a great season under the watchful eyes of our dedicated volunteer network members.”

SCDNR called the 2020 season a successful nesting year for the state’s sea turtle population, with 5,560 nests laid.

Sea turtle nesting season in the state officially began on Saturday, wildlife officials said. Over the next six months, the turtles will be making their way back to the beach to create nests.

Experts say female sea turtles do not come ashore to lay eggs every year because of the “high energy toll” nesting takes on them. That means the number of nests can vary wildly from year to year.

The 2019 season broke all records with 8,795 nests, while only 2,767 were documented in the 2018 season.

Overall, sea turtle nest numbers across the Southeast have trended up over the past decade, making biologists across the region optimistic that these threatened reptiles are beginning to recover after several decades of conservation efforts.

Four sea turtle species nest on South Carolina beaches: loggerheads, greens, Kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks. All four species are classified as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act in addition to local and state ordinances. Loggerhead nests comprise the vast majority of the state’s total number each year, but 2020 saw at least one nest from each species and even five nests from a loggerhead-hawksbill hybrid.

Sea turtle season officially runs from May 1 through October 31, with hatching beginning around the start of July.

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.

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