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An Unusual Find

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Mary Pringle and Christel Cothran survey the body pit of the green turtle nest. (Photo by Barbara Bergwerf).

The loggerhead, the state reptile of South Carolina, is the sea turtle that nests regularly on our coast. It is rare for other species to lay eggs here. The only recorded green sea turtle nest laid on this island was in the summer of 1998, which was my first year on the Island Turtle Team 22 years ago, and that turtle laid 153 eggs. There is a green turtle who lays eggs regularly in Garden City, South Carolina, but most of their nests in the United States are in Florida.

On June 24, Gina and Doug McQuilken patrolled the north end of the Isle of Palms and found turtle tracks at two locations in Wild Dunes.

The same turtle had crawled ashore at Summer House without laying eggs and had then made a huge hole at the north end of Beach Club Villas near the Property Owners Beach House.

At first glance, it appeared that a sea turtle had fallen into a hole dug by people, but, on closer inspection, we could see that the deep hole was made by the turtle and that she had thrown sand all around the area after nesting. That process took hours.

 Loggerheads crawl with an alternating gait and don’t leave a hole when they nest. But this turtle’s tracks showed that she was using both flippers at the same time to propel herself up onto the beach in a butterfly stroke manner, which is typical of a green or a leatherback. The tracks were about 3 feet wide instead of the usual 2 feet of a loggerhead track.

We located 101 eggs that were buried so deeply in the sand that the last few were very difficult to reach. Because of the very coarse sand from the 2018 renourishment project, where sand was pumped on the beach from offshore, there were many sharp shell fragments, and one egg had been sliced open as it fell into the hole.

This egg was collected as a genetics research sample.

According to Michelle Pate, state sea turtle coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, a green sea turtle nested on Bull Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge on June 10 of this year.

The sample we took will tell us if this is the same turtle who laid her nest there two weeks before. These turtles lay a new nest about every two weeks – the same as loggerheads do – and it is likely to be the same nesting female.

Gina McQuilken, who also volunteers at Cape Romain, told us that there had recently been a couple of green turtle false crawls in the Wildlife Refuge as well, again possibly the same turtle looking for a good place to nest. Our green turtle eggs were carefully removed and relocated to an area between 21st and 22nd avenues for incubation.

Juvenile green sea turtles of about 10 to12 inches in length are seen here every year where they forage for food before reaching maturity. This season, our Turtle Team has already had 10 of them strand, several of which were alive and taken for treatment at the South Carolina Aquarium Zucker Turtle Care Center. Most of them were victims of boat strikes and were deceased. They are interesting turtles that are herbivores as adults, grazing on seagrass that grows on the ocean floor. Adults are usually about 40 inches in shell length and weigh up to 500 pounds. They nest in tropical waters in 80 countries all over the world. They lay about 75 to 150 eggs every 12 to 15 days.

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