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Dangerous Tides

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Every year about this time, we all worry about hurricane damage. This is also true for the Island Turtle Team members, who are charged with protecting sea turtle nests that are in a vulnerable place on the beach. As tropical storm and at times Hurricane Isaias approached, we wondered if the remaining nests, including our green sea turtle nest, would survive. In 2011, we lost 11 nests to Hurricane Irene, another storm starting with the letter I. That year we had 46 nests on both islands, almost the same as in 2020.

The surf was high and strong even before Isaias arrived, with waves washing over the beach on the Isle of Palms at the Wild Dunes property owners’ beach house on Aug. 1, two days before the storm. The rental chairs and umbrellas normally above the high tide line were in danger of washing away, and a previously undetected loggerhead nest was exposed at that location, with more than 100 eggs washing around in the ocean. The parents and children of the Harrison family from Asheville, North Carolina, were concerned, collected the floating eggs and buried them near the dunes. 

We received the call about this, consulted with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and went to Wild Dunes for the eggs. We were advised to take them to a safer place in the dunes to dig a new spot for them.

Although it is likely that the embryos drowned from lack of oxygen while in the water, we wanted to give them every chance to hatch. Time will tell if they are still viable and developing tiny turtles. An undetected nest that was missed when it was laid is called a wild nest in the nesting database, where records are kept from all nests on the Atlantic coast. This is nest number 39 for Isle of Palms, and Sullivan’s Island has eight nests.

Fortunately for both islands, Isaias arrived here with its counterclockwise wind swirl after having had an increase in forward speed. This meant that, just as with Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the strongest wind was offshore, coming off the land onto the ocean at high tide around 8:30 p.m. the night of Aug. 3. This probably kept the water from surging onto the beach and eroding the dunes where the nests were located. Beaches north of us did not fare so well. Only two nests had water wash over them – nest no. 34 at 24th Avenue on IOP and nest no. 3 on Sullivan’s Island at Station 17.

When this happens briefly, it does not necessarily kill the eggs. But if water sits in the egg chamber for any length of time, the turtles might never hatch. We hope these will still hatch successfully.

We are at the stage of not getting any new nests and are just trying to protect the existing ones until they hatch up until the end of September. As of Aug. 5, 12 of our 47 nests have produced hatchlings, and we are collecting nesting data by conducting inventories several days after the turtles leave their nests.

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