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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

May 1, 2012

Season’s first loggerhead sea turtle nest is found

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Marine Turtle Conservation Program is excited to report that loggerhead nesting has officially begun in South Carolina. The first nest of the season was reported on April 30 by Fran Nolan, Nest Protection Project Leader for Harbor Island in Beaufort County. A nest was also reported on April 30 on Cape Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

Loggerhead nesting in April is rare and the first loggerhead nest of 2012 tied the earliest nest on record since the inception of the program in the late 1970’s. From May to August, loggerheads come ashore at night to lay their eggs with hatching continuing into October. Loggerhead nesting in South Carolina has been well documented and has averaged 3,378 nests per year over the last 10 years. Last year was a busy year with over 4,000 nests reported. The average clutch count in South Carolina is 120 eggs. Each female will nest approximately four times per season with two week intervals between each nesting event. A leatherback nest with 87 eggs has also been laid in South Carolina on Kiawah Island.

The average nest incubation duration for a loggerhead sea turtle is 55 - 60 days. Nests begin to hatch around mid to late July and hatchlings continue to emerge through October. After a turtle nest has hatched, DNR staff and program cooperators evaluate the contents of the hatched nest to determine the success of each nest. To keep up in real time with the number of nests laid and hatchlings emerged, please visit the South Carolina Online Nest Monitoring System provided by Seaturtle.org. You can also follow nesting in Georgia and North Carolina.

Sea turtles also begin washing up on our beaches (stranding) in April. Through April, we have had 24 strandings (compared with 21 last year for the same time period) with five of those washing up alive. To keep up with strandings in South Carolina please visit our online STRAND database provided by Seaturtle.org.

The DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program is also participating in a multi-state project along with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the North Carolina Wildlife and Resources Commission and the University of Georgia to answer several basic loggerhead sea turtle nesting questions. The answers to these questions will help biologists better understand how the loggerhead population is doing. Currently, the actual number of loggerhead sea turtles that nest in South Carolina is not known. DNR is using DNA genetic fingerprinting (CSI for sea turtles) to identify individual loggerhead nesting females. This information will provide a census of the actual nesting population. This year (2012) marks year three of this project. Overall, this research effort has identified 3,694 individual adult female loggerheads. You can follow the progress of this study on our genetics study webpage provided by Seaturtle.org.

The support of South Carolina coastal residents and visitors is needed more than ever to raise awareness and educate our visitors to Keep Light’s Out for Loggerheads. When adult females come ashore to nest, they need a dark beach to properly navigate in and out of the ocean. If there are artificial lights on the beach that prevent the female from finding her way, she becomes disoriented. Disorientations occur when artificial beach lighting is brighter than the natural ocean horizon.

You can also help by turning out all lights in your house that are visible from the beach, dusk to dawn, from May through October. Closing blinds and drapes on windows that face the ocean also reduces the light pollution on the beach. If a sea turtle hatchling is disoriented by artificial light, federal fines for harming a threatened or endangered species can reach $25,000. County and local lighting ordinances exist to protect sea turtles. Violating local or county lighting ordinances carry fines up to $500.

To learn more, please visit our Lights Out For Loggerheads webpage.

What You Can Do to Help Sea turtles in South Carolina

The DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program is responsible for managing and protecting sea turtles in the state of South Carolina. This program has several all-encompassing components: management, monitoring, research, and education. More specifically, this program implements management techniques to mitigate activities that may impact sea turtles. The program provides training and support to over 35 projects and over 1100 volunteers across the coast that protects nests and document sea turtles that wash ashore. DNR staff members also perform necropsies on fresh dead strandings and rescue live sea turtles in need of care.

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