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Jul 09 2009

How a bucket saved a sea turtle

Nicholas Johannes showers the tired Loggerhead with sea water.

Nicholas Johannes showers the tired Loggerhead with sea water. Photo by: Barbara Bergwerf

By Mary Pringle

During the night on June 26, a female Loggerhead turtle crawled over the dunes near the Isle of Palms County Park, looking for a place to lay her eggs. Turtle Team members Glenn Rhodes and Lois Klein found only one set of tracks leading into the dunes, but no tracks coming back out. They reported this and the rest of the team arrived to investigate. After searching in the deep grass and wildflowers around the very old post Hurricane Hugo sand fencing, we found a very exhausted 300 lb. turtle who had not been able to find her way back out to the beach. She had ended up under the boardwalk where the showers for the park are located. When your head is only a few inches off the ground and your eyes are meant to focus underwater, seeing the ocean is not easy!

We called the Isle of Palms Police and asked for some assistance from the Fire Department in carrying the heavy turtle over three rows of dunes and back to the beach. While we were waiting for the firemen to arrive and lift her, Nicholas Johannes made several trips to the water with a large bucket. He poured ocean water over the Loggerhead’s head and back to keep her from becoming dehydrated. This either perked her up or alarmed her because she suddenly started to crawl. She kept going and by the time helped arrived, she was just topping the primary dune closest to the ocean and crawled onto the sandy beach.

From there on it was easy because now she was on the downward slope and the ocean was in sight since the sun had risen. Many lucky people stood by and escorted her to the water near the pier where she swam away at last. She had been out of the water for hours and was undoubtedly relieved to get back home again. We did not find any eggs that morning, but the for the next several mornings, tracks were found coming out of the water and going behind the primary dunes without a nest at 38th and 36th Avenue. At least those times the tracks went safely back to the water. She must be very picky about a nesting site.

These “false crawls” are a common thing not only on developed islands such as ours but also on deserted beaches all over the world. No one knows for sure why turtles make these practice runs. Some speculate that they are trying to fool nest predators, or that they see lights or people on the beach which scare them away before they can nest. Or it could be that they cannot find a dune that suits them, or maybe their labor pains just stop and it’s a false labor. Whatever the reason, we’ve had just about as many false crawls as we have nests this season; as have most of the other South Carolina islands.

Nesting season is about halfway over and by the end of June we had twelve nests on the Isle of Palms and two on Sullivan’s Island. The experts say that by July 1 we should have approximately 55% of our total nests for the season. If this holds true, then we should end up with around 25 nests or a few less than last year

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