State records broken for sea turtle nests

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By Heather Ruppe

The number of sea turtle nests being laid on South Carolina beaches this summer is breaking all state records, with local numbers at Edisto Beach also skyrocketing.

According to Erin Weeks, with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, there are 324 sea turtle nests at the Edisto Beach State Park. These numbers are accurate, as of Monday, July 18th.

There are an additional 209 nests on the actual public town beach at Edisto. Moreover, these nest-count numbers do not include Botany Bay, which is a state preserve on Edisto Island.

“It’s been a crazy good year for us,” Weeks said, with a smile. “Our volunteers have been very busy.”

Statewide, South Carolina has already surpassed last year’s total annual nest count for sea turtles on all Palmetto State beaches. As of July 18th, there have been more than 6,800 total sea turtle nests found on South Carolina beaches.

“This is definitely an above-average year for us,” she said.

Sea turtle season lasts in South Carolina from May through October. Beginning in May of each year, up to four of the planet’s seven sea turtle species come ashore to lay eggs on South Carolina beaches. After approximately two months of incubation, young turtles emerge from their ping pong ball-sized eggs and quickly make their way toward the ocean.

“The emergence of hatchlings from nests reported so far is well under the average 60-day incubation period,” said Michelle Pate, wildlife biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “This shortened incubation period typically happens with nests laid early in the season. Hot temperatures can also affect the duration of the incubation period, leading to the early emergence of hatchlings.”

On Edisto Beach, the nests are counted and protected by trained volunteers who work with the

Edisto Beach Loggerhead Turtle Project. This group was formed in 1982, and works with state marine leaders to protect all sea turtles along the beach. The group locates nests, helps to relocate them if necessary, and protects them until the eggs are hatched.

According to that group, more people at Edisto are adopting local sea turtle nests. This process helps to secure public education in protecting sea turtles. The group reported on Monday morning via social media that their volunteers have been “very busy,” relocating nests and keeping them safe.

Rules to protect sea turtles

Sea turtles are federally protected. Locally, there are also state rules in effect to help protect nesting mothers and new hatchlings.

These local ordinances include:

Lights out on Edisto Beach after dark. This applies to all beach-front houses and businesses.

Remove all litter from the beach, including personal belongings, like chairs and toys.

Fill in all holes you make on the sand. This keeps turtles from being trapped.

Do not approach a nesting sea turtle or new hatchlings. Individuals who violate federal law by interfering with sea turtles, nests, and eggs can be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 and up to a year’s imprisonment.

Anyone can report all sick/injured/hooked/dead sea turtles and any nest disturbances to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-922-5431.

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