Environmentalists and turtles alike may be celebrating as sea turtles have made the highest number of nests on South Carolina’s beaches since the early 1980’s when record keeping began. As of July 10, there are 6,978 known nests across the coast. This beats the previous 2016 record of 6,446 nests by 532.
The record number of nests is not the only unusual occurrence for see turtles in 2019. Hatching season began with the first hatch on Hilton Head Island on June 27, which is early for hatching season to begin, overlapping with nesting season. There was also a nest laid by a Kemp’s Ridley, which is the world’s most endangered sea turtle.
Recently, record-breaking years have been more common across the southeast, making sea turtle biologists optimistic that this may be the beginning of recovery for loggerhead sea turtles, the most common turtles found in South Carolina nests. Loggerhead turtles were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1978 due to population decreases.
Reminders for nesting/ hatching season
Because nesting and hatching season overlaps, it is extremely important for beachgoers to abide by the laws put in place to protect sea turtles. The chances of running into a green shelled friend on the beach is higher because of the high nest numbers.
Not only state, but federal law as well prohibits the harm or interference of sea turtles or their nests. Such strict guidelines are in place because sea turtles see humans as predators, meaning something as simple as approaching a nest to take a photo can alter a sea turtle’s natural behavior and put them in danger.
If bystanders see violations of the law, distressed sea turtles or nest disturbances they should report it to SCDNR’s 24-hour wildlife hotline at 1-800-922-5431.
The SCDNR also encourages people to boat cautiously, especially in small tidal creeks where sea turtles often feed, as boat strikes are the leading cause of death for sea turtles in South Carolina. It is also important to keep artificial lights off the beach at night during the nesting season, only observe sea turtles from a distance (violators of this law can face fines up to $25,000 or up to a year of imprisonment), avoid-single use plastics to help keep the beaches and oceans clean and to support programs that advocate for conservation of sea turtles in South Carolina.
Continued help for the sea turtle population
The South Carolina Aquarium located nearby in Charleston is in a partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to help protect sea turtles — all seven species of which are considered either threatened or endangered — through the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center. When the SCDNR gets a call about a stranded or injured turtle, they bring it to the care center for treatment. Most often, turtles brought to the care center are meant to be treated for debilitated turtle syndrome, shock from being exposed to cold temperatures, or injury from a boat strike or shark bite.
Through the combined efforts of the veterinarians and the other care center staff and volunteers, the Care Center cares for the turtles with the use of things such as IV fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, x-rays or ultrasounds.
Once rehabilitated, the Care Center releases the turtles to rejoin the sea turtle population.
Some of the center’s current patients include Timon, a green turtle found at Myrtle Beach State Park, Banzai, a loggerhead found at Hunting Island State Park and J.K. Rowling, a Loggerhead found more locally at Kiawah Island.
Getting educated and giving back
Locals have several avenues available to them to educate themselves on sea turtle conservation and pitch in on the fight to protect the threatened species that roam the coast.The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has over 20 “turtle teams” that identify and protect sea turtle nests. These teams are comprised of volunteers and there are some located on local beaches including Folly Beach and Isle of Palms.
The Sea Turtle Care Center also accepts applications for a volunteer position as a STCC assistant. People interested in helping out the sea turtles but don’t have the time to put in hours can shop STCC’s Amazon Wishlist to buy something directly that the veterinarians need, or they can become a sea turtle guardian by making recurring donations to give a turtle things it needs like food, antibiotics, or even hook removal surgery.
For those looking to get educated on sea turtle conservation, they can visit the Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recover as part of the general admission to the aquarium or visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/outreach.htm for material on sea turtles.