By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News
For 11 years, the Turtle Team has collected one eggshell from every nest laid on our islands for scientists at the University of Georgia to use as a DNA sample. Between the inner layers of shell membrane, they are able to find cells from each female. This multistate research project under Dr. Brian Shamblin can identify individual loggerheads, providing a census of their population.
We are always excited when these results begin to be posted at the end of the season. We now know the mothers of six of Sullivan’s Island’s eight nests and eight of Isle of Palms’ 40 nests.
Loggerhead #1942 is a veteran and an experienced mother, laying 22 nests since the beginning of this study, which began in 2010. In all of these years, she has always nested on Bulls Island, Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island.
She nested in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019 and now twice on Sullivan’s in 2020. She laid nest #2 at Station 25 on June 19 and then nest #4 at Station 18 on July 3. Both of these nests had an excellent hatch rate, producing many hatchlings.
She may have laid other nests this season, but since only 10% of the samples in South Carolina have been identified, these two on Sullivan’s are all that we know of at this time.
They can lay up to six nests in a season.
Loggerhead #12896 is a neophyte nester, a young female who has just matured enough to begin laying eggs.
As their population increases, it is exciting to see new turtles begin to breed.
She laid nest #3 at Station 17, also known as the Jungle Path, on June 30 and then nest #8 near Station 18 on July 25. Her final record might show nests elsewhere, but we now know she nested twice on Sullivan’s in her first year.
Loggerhead #12897 might be a sister the same age as #12896. On June 20, she laid her first nest of the season on North Island near Georgetown and then traveled to Sullivan’s to lay nest #6 on July 6 at Station 16.
Loggerhead #3507 nested on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, Kiawah and Folly Beach in 2011 and 2016, but, in 2020, she favored Sullivan’s with nest #5 on July 5 at Station 25 and Isle of Palms with nest #36 near 8th Avenue on July 17.
Many of these turtles like to travel, nesting in different states, while some are more faithful to one or two islands.
From this research project, scientists and sea turtle lovers such as those on the Island Turtle Team are always learning more interesting facts about our loggerhead females and their nesting habits.
For more information about this project, visit: dnr.sc.gov/ seaturtle/volres/genetics.pdf.