Helping the Loggerhead Sea Turtles

If you’ve always wanted to do your part in helping out the loggerhead sea turtles on our beaches this is your opportunity. The South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE) group is just one of 30 different projects made up of volunteers offering protection to the sea turtles along the South Carolina coastline while they nest from May through October each year. All of these projects are overseen by the SC Department of Natural Resources.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea TurtleSince early in 1980 the SCUTE group has covered an area 60 miles long that extends from North Myrtle Beach to the North Inlet in Georgetown County. Because of these efforts, the numbers of sea turtle nests have been increasing steadily, especially over the past four years. Close to half of the nests along this region of the coastline are found on the DeBordieu and Hobcaw beaches. Last year alone we had 108 nests along our stretch of beachfront, setting a new record for us. The previous record was set in 1995 with a total of 75 nests.

Each day at sunrise during nesting season volunteers walk the beaches looking for the large turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dunes and back. When tracks are found, clues are used to determine the location of the nesting area. Using pool cues, volunteers carefully probe the sand to locate the soft area of the egg chamber. An average nest of 120 ping-pong ball size eggs may need to be moved if the clutch is laid in an unsafe place such as below the spring tide line or in a high foot traffic area. Nests are protected with a plastic mesh, staked to protect it from predators and a sign is posted with the nesting date.

Baby Loggerhead Sea TurtleWhile monitoring the nests, volunteers begin to look for a depression in the nest at about 50 days of incubation indicating the start of hatching activity. When a nest hatches, usually between 55-60 days, hatchlings make a mad dash to the ocean following the fluorescence of the waves. It is important during this time that they are not lead astray by onshore lighting.

Following the successful completion of a hatch, we are required by SCDNR to wait 3 nights before conducting a nest inventory so that all hatchlings have a chance to exit the nest. At the inventory, the nest contents are dug out and data is recorded and sent to SCDNR. Occasionally live hatchlings, unsuccessful at emerging on their own, are found in the nest. Volunteers put the hatchlings on the beach, let them crawl to the ocean and ‘imprint’. At maturity, 25-30 years, female loggerheads will generally return to the beach of their birth to nest. However, recent DNA studies show some turtles will nest many miles from where they hatched.

If you would like more information about how you can help the loggerhead sea turtles please visit the DeBordieu Hobcaw SCUTE website.

Update:

We’ve got news on the turtles! Check out this message we got from members of the SCUTE:

Dear Volunteers – My friend, Carter, walked the Middle with me this morning and knew DEB03 north of WW#3 was likely to hatch tonight. About 4:30 she and her husband checked the nest and she called to say there were turtles in the top! When I got to the nest there were about 8 turtles down in the hole. I put my backpack behind the mesh to shade the hole. Well….they started moving and…well….watch the video! -Betsy

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