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Oct 03 2017

Nesting Season Starts And Ends With A Bang

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Photos by Barb Bergwerf

Nest #31 in which eggs died early in development was exposed by Hurricane Irma on the morning of September 12th.

This season got off to a very exciting start with the Isle of Palms having the first nest north of Florida. It was also our earliest nest and the first one documented by us in April. And at this time the Sullivan’s Island firemen rescued a migrating leatherback turtle from entanglement in a crab trap rope. We had only three unhatched nests as Hurricane Irma roared by on September 11. Some other beaches in South Carolina still had dozens of them. Our final total for the two islands the Turtle Team manages for SCDNR is 51 nests.

urtle Team member Tee Johannes prepares to move unhatched eggs farther from the nest that was invaded by roots and will not hatch.

One of these three nests was in the 700 block of Ocean Blvd. where I live, and it was due any time. On the morning of the storm I got a call from my neighbor Russell Shults saying that he was out walking when his dog Jetty and noticed that there were tiny turtles all over the beach. He asked me to come right away. I rushed out there in the drizzling rain and was able to watch and help the rest of this nest of dozens of loggerheads get into the ocean which was already churning with tropical storm force currents. Some of the hatchlings were being blown upside down when the wind gusted, but they all got in. This was their only hope because after the storm many feet of dunes along with most of the boardwalk walkovers were gone. If still underground, they probably would have drowned.

The last two nests were due to hatch two and four days after this one, and they were completely lost, causing the Isle of Palms hatch success rate to drop from 83% down to 77%, but that is still a good number since the state average is 62%. In order to find these last nests after the hurricane eroded the dunes, we had driven four foot stakes into the dunes six and ten feet landward of them. At the nest near my house these tall stakes were gone, but at 31st and 32nd Avenues they were still there with the nests washed away. A nest that had failed to hatch where the eggs had died early in development because of invasion by roots of dune plants was visible at the edge of the vertical wall of a scarped dune at 32nd Avenue. So technically Irma only destroyed two of our 51 nests.

We were indeed fortunate that most of our nests were finished and gone and that our nesting loggerheads had each already produced possibly four to six hundred healthy offspring before Irma took a couple of hundred eggs. This is the way nature works, and we are happy to have helped get over four thousand new sea turtles into ocean this season.

Many thanks to all of the 170 members of the Island Turtle Team for their diligent work in 2017: patrolling the beach for tracks, protecting nests from predators, and cleaning the beach of several tons of litter. See you next summer.

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