By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News
Loggerhead nesting began for us when the first nest was laid at the north end of the Isle of Palms in Dewees Inlet on May 18. As this is written we have 22 nests of the Isle of Palms and 9 nests on Sullivan’s Island. People often ask why there are so many more nests on the Isle of Palms than Sullivan’s, and no one really knows. One reason could be that there is more than twice the length of coastline on the IOP. We know from our 12 year genetics research study that certain individual turtles prefer a certain area for their nests.
Although they don’t really come back to the spot where they were hatched, perhaps some of them do favor that general area. Another thing we have learned is that most of them are laying eggs in alternate years, skipping the year in between the season when they are breeding to rest and replenish their nutritional needs.
Sea turtles are said to prefer a short erosional beach to a wide flat one because of the effort it takes to drag their bodies which can weigh several hundred pounds up to an elevated dune where the nest will be safe from the tide. However, 12 nests or the majority of the IOP ones, have been laid in Wild Dunes where there is a very wide and flat beach since the 2018 renourishment project. This is a problem because several hundred yards of beach that can easily be washed over is a dangerous place for turtle nests. These females usually crawl just above the high tide line – right where the chairs, umbrellas and tents are set up – and lay their nests.
Because of this loss of suitable and safe habitat for the nests, we must relocate those eggs to a place where the nests will survive, which is usually farther south where there are elevated and safe dunes. We believe that perhaps these same turtles have always nested in the Wild Dunes area because that’s where they were hatched. So they are just coming back home to lay their eggs. But now the beach is very different.
People ask how long these loggerheads live. No one ever knew for sure until the ongoing genetics study was begun. But research has shown that there is one female nesting in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near McClellanville who has at least 12 daughters nesting and as many as 4 granddaughters nesting as well.
Since it takes 25-30 years for them to mature and begin to reproduce, that means that she is probably about 90 years old! Truly amazing that she is still laying eggs. The usual predators of sea turtle eggs are ghost crabs, raccoons, coyotes or fire ants. But occasionally sea birds prey upon hatchlings. Shawn Drackwicz, Turtle Team member who lives in Wild Dunes was relocating eggs laid near Grand Pavilion on June 22 when a flock of laughing gulls spotted the clutch of 126 loggerhead eggs and thought that maybe Shawn was getting ready to give them a free egg breakfast. They swarmed her and even managed to unearth one broken egg and eat the yolk. It was a harrowing experience, but she survived.
Members of the Turtle Team who have been given DNR permits to respond when a turtle washes ashore have documented nine sea turtles this season. These include four juvenile green sea turtles, one juvenile Kemp’s ridley and two loggerheads. Most of these had been killed after being struck by boat propellers. We expected there to be some fatalities from all the boats in the water during the July 4 holiday weekend and it did happen with one of the beautiful little green turtles. People should try to look out for sea turtles, large and small, when they are out on the water.