First Loggerhead Sea Turtle nests reported, nesting season underway

MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - This year is the latest start to Loggerhead nesting season recorded. Friday, May 30, the first nest of sea turtle's was found at Huntington Beach State Park.

A total of five have been reported already. Volunteers with the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts - known as SCUTE - patrol the beaches. Volunteers go to a designated area around 6 a.m. every morning to check for marks in the sand like those left by the turtles.

They usually lead to a little nest of about 120 eggs underneath the sand. Once the volunteers find the nests and report them, a predator cage is installed surrounding the nest to protect the eggs.

Historically The biggest threat to the eggs at Huntington Beach State Park are red foxes and coyotes.

"We actually have a steel wire cage that we dig a trench around the nest, and bury this [cage] in the ground," says Mike Walker, Interpretive Park Ranger for Huntington Beach State Park. "It's got flanges along the bottom so that if a canine predator tries to dig into the nest and hits the flange, it can dig no further. And thus far we've found that to be the only effective means to keep canine predators out of nests."

There have also been a total of five "false crawls." These occur when a female sea turtle makes her way from the water up to the beach as though she is laying her nest, but instead returns to the ocean without laying her eggs. There are several reasons for her to return to the water, from being unable to find a safe spot close to the dunes, to too much human interaction.

That is why it is so important to refrain from interacting with sea turtles. If the female sea turtle false-crawls too many times, she could eventually drop her eggs in the ocean, which would kill them. When the eggs finally hatch, and make their way to the water, people who stumble across them may instinctively want to take a picture - this could damage their eyes and disorient them. It's also illegal.

A Huntington Beach state park ranger says those holes you build for people or sand castles and leave at the end of the day are dangerous for female sea turtles trying to lay eggs, and also for the hatchlings trying to make their way to the water, because they can get trapped in them.

So when you're out having fun in the sun, try to remember to cover holes. One of the park rangers at Huntington Beach State Park says they are becoming a huge problem.

Something else you may not think about: plastic grocery store bags that are good make-shift disposable beach bags. They easily fly away, and if they make their way into the ocean, they can kill sea turtles, because they see them as jelly fish and try to eat them.

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