Sea turtle nesting season begins on SC shores

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CHARLESTON, SC (FOX Carolina) –

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday that the state’s first sea turtle nest of 2017 was discovered on Isle of Palms.

Isle of Palms sea turtle volunteer Bill Schupp discovered tracks on the beach the morning of April 31, DNR officials said in a news release.

“We have never had an April nest before and were quite surprised when Bill Schupp called and said that there were tracks near the 56th Avenue access path,” stated longtime DNR volunteer Barb Bergwerf in the news release.

DNR officials said the April nest was first on record ever found in South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina, too.

South Carolina’s official sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to October 31. This year, officials said an unusually warm winter led sea turtles to arrive early off the coast of South Carolina, as they hunted for cannonball jellyfish and other favorite foods.

DNR biologists are expecting another successful year of nesting, but probably not the record numbers they saw last year.

Sea turtle nest numbers broke records in 2016 when 6,444 loggerhead nests were laid – the highest number since the DNR’s sea turtle program was launched in the late 1970s. Still, the federal Loggerhead Recovery Plan’s goal is to have 9,200 nests yearly in the state.

“Many of our beaches experienced heavy erosion last fall during Hurricane Matthew, reducing the amount of ideal sea turtle nesting habitat,” said Michelle Pate, DNR biologist and sea turtle program coordinator. “As a result of that we may see more nest relocations this season, as trained staff and volunteers move eggs to safer ground, but overall we’re hopeful for another year of high nest numbers.”

DNR officials said four sea turtle species nest on South Carolina beaches: loggerheads, greens, Kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks. All four sea turtle species are classified as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act in addition to local and state ordinances. People who harm or interfere with sea turtles or their nests can be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 and up to a year in prison.

Officials said South Carolina beachgoers can help the state’s sea turtles by keeping beaches free of holes, trash, and obstructions, turning beachfront lights out (or closing window blinds) to avoid disorienting the turtles, and by giving all sea turtles and nests a wide and respectful berth when encountered on the beach.

The DNR also offered these Sea Turtle Nesting Season Reminders:

  • Keep Lights Out! on beachfront property during nesting season.
  • Refrain from using flash photography on the beach at night.
  • Keep our beaches and ocean clean. Trash items such as plastic bags and balloons can cause injury or death when sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish, a favorite food.
  • Respect sea turtles by observing them from a distance on the beach.
  • Report dead or injured sea turtles and nest disturbances to SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431.
  • Report sightings of live, healthy turtles to SCDNR here.

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