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Tracks In The Sand

By Seabrook Island Turtle Patrol for The Island Eye News

A sea turtle ‘crawl’ is the track left by a female coming ashore across the sand to find a suitable place to dig a nest and lay her eggs. This crawl on Seabrook Island led to the state’s first nest of the season. 

Seabrook Island is home to the first loggerhead sea turtle nest of the 2021 nesting season here in South Carolina. Volunteers for the Seabrook Island Turtle Patrol identified the nest early on May 5th. Sandy MacCoss located the crawl and found the nest with 117 eggs on the beach North of the Seabrook Island Beach Club pools. Lucy Hoover helped Sandy relocate the eggs to a safer location above the high tide line. The nest marks the official start of loggerhead sea turtle nesting season in South Carolina, which generally runs through October. 

This is the second time on record that Seabrook Island has been home to the first nest in the state, with the previous time being 2014. Neighboring Kiawah Island was recently home to the first nest in the state in 2019. The find comes on the heels of a challenging, but successful 2020 season. 

Despite ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the Seabrook Island Turtle Patrol identified and protected 61 loggerhead sea turtle nests in 2020, a total squarely between 2019’s record total of 90 nests and 2018’s relatively low count of 31 nests. Because nesting exacts a high energy toll on the large reptiles, female sea turtles do not come ashore to lay eggs every year. This pattern results in nesting fluctuations from year to year – 5,560 nests were laid statewide in 2020, 2019 broke all records with 8,795 nests, and 2018 saw just 2,767 nests. Nesting females will continue to visit South Carolina beaches to deposit their nests at night for the next several months with hatchlings emerging after 50- 65 days of incubation. While estimates vary, it is generally accepted that a nesting female must lay at least 1000 eggs in her lifetime to replace herself, so protecting both mature adults and emerging hatchlings from increasing beach pressures and other hazards is necessary to help sea turtle populations recover. Sea turtles act as a keystone species whose presence and continued existence is vital to other species throughout both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Remember that sea turtles are protected by federal and local laws. 

You can help by adhering to the following best practices while on the beach and on the water: 

• Lights out! Turn off exterior lights and draw blinds if you live in or rent a home along the beach. Bright lights discourage nesting and attract hatchlings away 

from the water. If you need to use a light on the beach, shield the light with a red lens. 

• If you see a nesting turtling or emerging hatchling, keep your distance, keep pets away, and notify the turtle patrol. 

• Stay clear of nests and out of the dunes. Sea turtle nests on our beach are marked with an orange DNR sign and white pole and are always located in areas where no one should tread. Similarly, stay out of bird nesting areas as indicated by signage. 

• Fill in any holes and level and sand structures that you make on the beach. Tiny hatchlings and large nesting turtles alike can become stuck in or on these excavations. 

• Remove all equipment from the beach before leaving. Items on the beach discourage nesting mothers and, in some cases, can ensnare them. If you have a permit to have a bonfire, extinguish the fire thoroughly by the required time and cover with sand. 

• Pack out any trash or food waste that you bring to the beach. Trash is dangerous when ingested and food waste attracts predators. 

• Respect boating laws and boat cautiously, especially in small tidal creeks where sea turtles like to feed. Boat strikes have emerged as the leading cause of death for sea turtles in South Carolina.

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