Sea turtle hatching season set to start on Lowcountry beaches

SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD)- We are in the midst of sea turtle nesting and hatching season. Only one in every 1,000 baby sea turtles makes it to adulthood, so South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is doing all they can to give those turtles the best shot at survival. So far, no sea turtle nests have hatched this year, but experts with DNR expect that to see the first nest hatching soon.

Deep grooves in the sand are the first sign a sea turtle has chosen a beach to lay her eggs. Thursday morning, a brand new nest with 97 eggs was found on Sullivan’s Island. This is just one of more than 3,600 on palmetto state beaches so far this year.

Michelle Pate, Coordinator for SCDNR’s Marine Turtle Conservation Program, says, “We’ve got several months of nesting to still occur, so we are anticipating a really good year.”

The nest on Sullivan’s was in a spot at risk for high tide and erosion, so Island Turtle Team volunteers and DNR moved the nest to a safer spot in the dunes.

Once these sea turtles hatch, they only have 48 hours to make it down the beach, to the water, and more than 40 miles out to sea to reach their food source. Every minute of that journey counts

Pate says, “They’re little guys, they start out about that big and get to roughly 300 pounds as a full grown adult, so they have a lot of perils to face once they get to the ocean.”

Sea turtles use the light of the moon to find their way out to sea, but if there is a lot of artificial light around, they can become disoriented and travel in the opposite direction.

Pate says, “If a hatchling with a limited amount of energy gets misdirected, it uses up that energy before it even reaches the ocean and that can be a very bad consequence for a tiny hatchling.”

You can help by turning off lights along the beach at night. This includes inside your home, in your yard, and any flashlights you might be using to walk along the shore.

Annie Vola, a volunteer with the Island Sea Turtle Team, says, “I have to say I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any of the exterior lights on. This morning I saw some interior lights on, but generally people seem very respectful of the lights out rule.”

SCDNR says picking up trash and filling in holes you dig on the beach can also give sea turtles a fighting chance.

They also ask beachgoers to remember, if you see a sea turtle nest, hatchling, or nesting mother on the beach, leave it alone. Tampering with a sea turtle can land you a federal fine up to $25,000.

For a list of sea turtle friendly light sources, click here.

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