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Jul 10 2019

Directions For Laying A Nest

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Female sea turtle returning to the ocean after laying her eggs. (Photo by Barbara Bergwerf).

If you are a sea turtle, most of the things you do are not taught to you but come naturally with instinct helping you out constantly.

But just in case you need some pointers, here is a list for you to follow:

  1. Stick your head up from the surf and check out the beach. Be very sure to look for a dark beach without lights shining from houses. If you see lights, go somewhere else and try again. Be very careful!
  2. Look for a beach that is not eroded by storms or high surf. A nest laid at the foot of a steep, scarped dune can easily be flooded. Try to find a beach that is not too wide and flat or you will have to crawl forever to find an elevated dune. Don’t nest too close to Breach or Dewees Inlet or your hatchlings could be swept behind the island on an incoming tide. It’s easier to lay a nest at high tide but any time will do. A full moon is not necessary either. Just be sure it is dark so you won’t be seen on the beach.
  3. You might want to find the beach where you were hatched, but this is not mandatory, the same general area of the coast is fine if you prefer Folly or Dewees Island or even Seabrook or Edisto. From ongoing genetics research, now in its 10th year, we know some of you have been found to be nesting every two weeks during a summer, laying eggs in locations many miles apart. But others are faithful to your natal beach, laying 4-6 nests there and nowhere else.
  4. In choosing a nest site, crawl above the spring tide line and find a place that is not too high on the dune where the sun will be hot. Try not to destroy the sea oats and dune grasses. This is against the law!
  5. Once you’ve found a good spot, dig a “body pit” with all four flippers to lower your profile on the beach when you lay your eggs. With your rear flippers, dig alternately until you’ve carved out an inverted light bulb shaped cavity almost two feet deep.
  6. Drop the eggs, two or three at a time into the egg chamber until you are finished. Don’t worry, they are like soft, leathery ping pong balls and should not break when they fall against each other. You will probably have well over 100 of them each time.
  7. Carefully fill the hole using your rear flippers. Pack the sand down and crawl around, throwing sand everywhere with your long front flippers. No one except the Turtle Team will ever be able to find the eggs if you disguise the nest well enough. But don’t worry, they will move the nest to a safe spot if you don’t follow these rules.
  8. Turn around and head back down the beach. I know you are tired after all this, but your job is done. Go back into the ocean, rest up, and wait two more weeks, then repeat steps 1-7.

This article of advice was printed a few years ago, but since some of our nesting females didn’t seem to get the memo, it is being done again.


According to Sally Murphy who was the first SCDNR Coordinator for Sea Turtles and is now retired and living in Sheldon, SC, the summer solstice on June 20 is usually the mid-point of the nesting season. She compared this this year to 2016, which was our last big year for nesting when 60% of nests were laid in May and June. Using this formula, it appears that the Turtle Team could get about 60 nests in 2019 and South Carolina could have about 7,300 nests.

Mary Pringle has been the Project Leader for the Isle of Palms/Sullivan’s Island Turtle Team since 2000. It is one of about thirty nest protection projects under the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. She is also on the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.

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