Tracking A Turtle That Returns Year After Year

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

A Google map tracking of an Island Turtle Team’s turtle that has nested at least 16 out of 29 times on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island.     

One of our very favorite turtles is known as CC001415 in the database for the genetics research project that the Turtle Team has participated in for 13 years. She has nested at least 16 out of 29 times on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. The Google map shows her locations. Some of the pins for the Isle of Palms are on top of each other and not visible. This amazing project identifies individual nesting loggerheads from our collection of a fresh eggshell from each nest. Inside the shell between the membranes that line it lies the secret of her identity where a few of her cells are picked up as the egg travels down her oviduct to receive the shell before being laid. For 13 years, we have put an eggshell from every nest in a vial of alcohol for SCDNR to collect and send to the University of Georgia where Dr. Brian Shamblin is conducting this research project which spans North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and parts of Florida, reading the DNA of thousands of loggerhead sea turtles. It has been said by many that these turtles only return to the beach where they were hatched, but this project has proved that to be wrong. Some turtles can nest in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all within one season whereas others tend to prefer to stay closer to home. The amazing results from this research show not only where an individual has nested over the years but also records how many eggs are laid and how many hatchlings are produced. Our special girl, #1415, was nesting in 2010 when the project began. That means she might have been nesting for decades before that year as well since they can live more than 100 years. She usually lays five nests during a season at two week intervals. Then, like other loggerheads, she takes a year off to rest up and recover her strength after laying about 600 protein-rich eggs before doing it again. In 2010, she nested at Cape Romain and at Kiawah andFolly Beach. In 2012, she was at Seabrook and again on Cape Island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. In 2014, she went to Cape and Bulls Islands and once to the Isle of Palms and twice to Sullivan’s Island. She must have liked our neighborhood because in 2016 she nested twice on the Isle of Palms and twice on Cape Island. After that she came back in 2018 and this time laid five nests, all on the Isle of Palms. 

She did not take 2019 off and laid five more nests on the Isle ofPalms. Our early results show that she is back this year and laid 142 eggs in Nest No. 2 at 5th Avenue on May 18 and 137 eggs in Nest No. 7 just a half block away at the 5A path on June 1. These healthy nests had hatch success rates of 94% and 96%. We are guessing that three more of our 2022 nests will belong to #1415 as well, but the results are not in yet. 

As of Aug. 3, Isle of Palms has recorded 41 nests and 14 hatchings. Sullivan’s Island has recorded 13 nests and four hatchings. 

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