CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Sea turtle nesting season in South Carolina has begun, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
SSCDNR biologists have reported the start of sea turtle nesting with a nest laid Thursday night on Lighthouse Island. Located within the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, the site of South Carolina’s densest sea turtle nesting, a loggerhead nest was discovered by a technician United States Fish and Wildlife sea turtle Friday morning.
South Carolina’s official sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to October 31 each year.
“Staff and volunteers are very excited to celebrate the official opening of sea turtle season,” SCDNR sea turtle biologist Michelle Pate said. “This year has been an especially difficult one for all of us globally, and we welcome the seasonal return of these ancient creatures back to South Carolina’s nesting beaches.”
In 2019, SCDNR says South Carolina has a record-breaking season in which sea turtles laid the greatest number of nests ever recorded in a season. Volunteers and biologists counted 8,802 nests in South Carolina, which reportedly represented a 37% increase over the previous record set in 2016.
The department says the ongoing COVID-19 global health crisis is expected to reshape sea turtle nest protection efforts this year. Typically, over 1,300 volunteers from 30 different nest protection programs spend the summer months patrolling South Carolina’s beaches each morning for crawls, the telltale tracks left by a female sea turtle as it trundles ashore. Due to current guidelines meant to safeguard employee and community safety, the volunteer network has been restricted until beaches across the state fully reopen and state employees are permitted to fully return to the field.
Sea turtle clutches average 120 eggs and hatch after approximately 60 days. Nesting females may remain in South Carolina waters and continue to nest every two weeks, laying up to six nests per season. Throughout this stressful time, the turtles also abstain from eating.
DNR says South Carolina beachgoers can help the state’s sea turtles by keeping beaches clean, turning beachfront lights out to avoid disorienting turtles, and giving all sea turtles and nests a wide and respectful berth when encountered on the beach.