MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - We're nearing the end of the hatching season for seas turtles. In fact, the last of 12 nests at Huntington Beach State Park just hatched last week.
But the work is just starting for researchers at Coastal Carolina University.
Dr. Eric Koepfler at CCU led the research project, and included some students and a graduate student. Students were studying how the intensity of light can impact and disorient hatchlings. Dr. Koepfler says the project is the first of its kind.
The team decided to use the three miles of beach at Huntington Beach State Park as the control for this project, because there is a lights out policy at night there. There is no artificial light in those three miles.
The students set up infra-red cameras 14 feet above three different nests to collect video of when it hatched. Students are now going frame by frame through the video to determine the angle at which the hatchlings traveled, if they wandered, and how long it took to get to the ocean.
Dr. Koepfler says in the initial findings of the research, the video data shows that hatchlings did not wander very much on the way to the ocean. This is what they expected to find at the state park.
The professor is currently working to make sure the project has the correct permissions to continue the research next year. He wants more time for so students to collect more video and from more areas of the Grand Strand.
The ultimate goal is to see what the lowest intensity of light will distract a sea turtle hatchling. Dr. Koepfler hopes that will bring awareness to the amount of light beach cities emit and how it can be a devastating effect on sea turtle population and lifespan.
"That's one of the big factors that everyone can pitch in with to try and help," encouraged Mike Walker, the interpretive ranger at Huntington Beach State Park. "Lights on the beach and any outside beach lighting can have a devastating effect on sea turtles. It can prevent mother turtles from coming in to nest. It may prevent hatchling turtles from finding their way into the ocean."