By Grace Nichols for The Island Eye News
Before midnight on July 24, a loggerhead turtle ventured out of the ocean onto the Isle of Palms dunes in hopes of laying upwards of one hundred eggs. After searching for a place to nest, and beginning the process of digging an egg chamber, which can take up to an hour, the turtle was disturbed by onlookers who were shining their phone flashlights at the turtle causing it to return to the sea. It is unclear what the group was trying to do by approaching the turtle. The person who reported the group asked them to stop, but they refused. Soon after their refusal the turtle began its descent back into the water without getting the chance to lay any eggs. Mary Pringle from the IOP and Sullivan’s Island Turtle Team said that most people “are just curious,” and do not realize the harm that they are doing. “The turtles are looking for a dark, undisturbed beach. The best thing to do is to stay back at least 100 feet.” Pringle also encourages bystanders to call the non-emergency number to report events like this one if they witness it. Disturbances from people on the beach are not the only obstacle the turtles face during their nesting season running from May through October. Developed beaches like IOP and Sullivans have a lot of light coming from houses, the streets, and even the glow coming from downtown Charleston. For millions of years turtle hatchlings followed the light that the moon casts on the ocean to find their way, but now with the large amounts of light they can become easily disoriented leading them to death instead of the water. Lighting ordinances which prohibit lights seen from the beach are used to help prevent confusion for the turtles, but these guidences are not always followed. Pringle went on to talk about how “turtles and people can easily coexist” if simple rules are followed.
Loggerhead Turtles are protected under state and federal law. If harm is done to turtles or the eggs, fines can be as high as $1,000 per reptile.