MURRELLS INLET, SC (WMBF) - Sea turtles love to nest along the South Carolina coastline. The protected species are a treasure to see if you're lucky enough, but there's been a problem lately with people getting in the way of nesting sea turtles.
The South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts group documents sea turtle nesting, crawls, false crawls and updates the public on general turtle-related information. Crawls, false crawls and nesting is present all along the Grand Strand, but especially beaches in Garden City and Huntington Beach State Park.
Some people along the Grand Strand have been lucky enough to see a sea turtle in the day time, which Huntington Beach State Park ranger Mike Walker explained as a rarity. Sea turtles, he said, typically only come out on the beach to nest late at night. However, a group recently encountered a sea turtle in Surfside Beach. Ranger Walker said the group's actions of surrounding the sea turtle and getting too close scared her back into the ocean.
He said while these people meant no harm, the picture serves as a great example of what to do if you see a sea turtle. Leave them alone, stay at least 100 feet away and stay behind them so they can't see you, he explained. If you're patient and give them their space, chances are you can witness a sea turtle nest, which is rare. Ranger Walker also gives a friendly reminder to turn off all lights at night if you're near or on the beach.
"Lights on the beach will disorient and frighten mother turtles from nesting, prevent them from nesting. It has another effect on hatchlings...hatchlings are actually drawn to light...and so flashlights or outside lights on on beach houses can actually prevent the hatchlings from being able to find their way into the ocean," Walker said.
Ranger Walker said to always fill in beach holes if you must dig them. People can become injured, and sea turtles and their hatchlings can become trapped. Digging them near the water will let the ocean naturally fill them in as the tide changes.
So far, Walker said Huntington Beach State Park has 14 sea turtle nests. The nesting season runs from about the middle of May to August, he said. Last year, there were only 14 nests for the entire season, so park rangers are hopeful to beat last year's number.
Ranger Walker said there's no way to confirm the number of hatchlings that make it do adulthood, but he estimates 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles will grow to maturity, while 1 in 10,000 unprotected nests will make it. Nests with a cage around them, like at Huntington Beach State Park, are protected.