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A Turtle Season To Remember

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Hatchling tracks coming from Nest #36 at 22nd Avenue on the Isle of Palms on Oct. 12, the final nest of the 2021 nesting season. (Photo by Christel Cothran)

The year 2021 turned out to be one of the most successful that the Island Turtle Team has ever experienced with all nests hatching well and only minor predation from ghost crabs and none from coyotes or fire ants, the other two most likely predators. The Isle of Palms ended up with 36 nests with the last one hatching on Oct. 12 after being laid on Aug. 12 and Sullivan’s Island finishing with 13 nests for a total of 49 loggerhead nests, one more than in 2020. South Carolina has recorded 5,649 sea turtle nests, all loggerhead except for one Kemps Ridley and five green sea turtle nests. The weather may have been a factor in the above usual hatch success seen this season. The Isle of Palms has never had an average 90% hatch success with very few hatchlings left in the nest when the inventories are performed 3 days after the turtles first leave the nest. If the summer temperatures are too hot, the eggs can develop too quickly for the hatchlings to be at optimal good health or may even fail to hatch. This summer we experienced slightly cooler than normal weather for parts of the summer, which may have boosted the success of the nests. The average incubation time for both islands was slightly over 57 days. The experts at SCDNR have told us that anything below 55 days is not ideal. So we were blessed not only with ideal temperatures but also the absence of flooding or erosion that can come with hurricanes or even King Tides. As always we owe a big thank you to all team members who rose at dawn seven days a week to patrol the beach, to the vacation rental companies who helped keep the beach dark by educating renters, to the police, fire, city administrators and other workers on both islands who assist us in many ways to help our loggerheads nest and allow hatchlings to make it to the ocean safely. You can find final summaries for all beaches at seaturtle.org if you look under Resources/Nesting/South Carolina and choose Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island. 

THE FINAL NUMBERS 

Isle of Palms 

• Total nests – 36 

• Relocated Nests – 28 

• Estimated eggs laid – 4,100 

• Mean clutch count – 115.7 eggs 

• Mean incubation time – 57.3 days 

• Average hatch success – 90% 

Sullivan’s Island 

• Total nests – 13

 • Relocated nests – 7 

• Estimated eggs laid – 1,280

 • Mean clutch count – 100.4 eggs 

• Mean incubation time 57.6 days 

• Average hatch success – 76.6% 

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