By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News
Late July is crunch time during loggerhead nesting season. This is when our turtles are still laying multiple nests each week and nests that were laid in May are hatching at the same time. The average incubation time for a loggerhead nest to hatch and produce turtles in South Carolina is about 45 to 60 days. On the Isle of Palms the first three nests to hatch did this in 57, 59 and 53 days. Newly hatched loggerheads normally come out of the sand at least several hours after the sun goes down. After several days the 100-plus hatchlings that have been breaking out of their eggs with their sharp “egg tooth” have all worked together to dig toward the surface where they wait until the temperature near the surface drops a few degrees. This is their instinctual cue that it is probably dark above the surface and safer for them to make their break to the ocean. There are nocturnal predators such as ghost crabs, raccoons and coyotes, but at least birds and blazing hot July sun are not likely to create problems at night. Some hatchlings even emerge from the nest well after midnight or just before dawn. Surprisingly, two out of the first three nests on the Isle of Palms recently emerged during daylight hours – one near the 5 Avenue Access path before the sun went down on the evening of July 15 and the other at the Wild Dunes Property Owners’ Beach House as the sun was rising on the morning of July 18. Since we have been having lots of cooling rain showers in the last few weeks, this could have tricked them into thinking that nighttime cooling had cooled down the sand and not rain showers. On July 15 the Redd family from Aiken was staying in the vacation rental house at 512 Ocean Blvd. when their children saw one hatchling leave the nest about 6:30 p.m. They called the DNR hotline number on the nest sign 1-800-922-5431 and reported this. The DNR Radio Room in Columbia notified our team that this was happening. You can also report this locally to the IOPPD at 843-886-6522. We rushed out onto the beach in time to escort well over 100 hatchlings to the water on a beach with many people present. At least light disorientation is not a problem in the daylight because the turtles can see the ocean clearly. It was important to keep people away from the area between the turtles and the ocean waves as they crawled down the slope of the beach. Beachgoers were thrilled to witness such a special event, and some were even moved with tears in their eyes. Then on the morning of July 18, a nest that had been laid in Dewees Inlet near the Links golf course 17th tee and relocated to a dune just north of the Wild Dunes Property Owners’ Beach House started to erupt. Turtle Team member Carolyn Eshelman who lives in Ocean Club Villas was checking the beach for new nests and the existing nests for signs of hatching. She reported seeing turtles there in the early morning sun.
Other team members went, and they protected this group of hatchlings crawling to the water.
With 50 nests and counting on our two islands, it is turning out to be a very prolific year for our loggerheads. As of July 20, Isle of Palms has 37 nests with three hatched. Sullivan’s Island has 13 nests and none have hatched.