Photo By Jeff Dennis
Nesting loggerhead turtle encountered on May 25, 2019 at Seabrook Island
By Jeff Dennis
Loggerhead sea turtles return to the beaches of the South Atlantic coast each year in late spring to begin nesting.
The sea turtles seek out safe sands located on barrier islands to make their nest, with sea turtle nest numbers trending upward in 2019.
Many communities practice a “Lights Out” campaign from May 1 through October 31 in order to reduce any light pollution that could disorient a turtle. Teams of volunteers comb the beaches at dawn during nesting season to locate and record any nesting attempts.
Locals and vacationing tourists are able to participate in the annual sea turtle nesting campaign by observing the beach for turtles.
The majority of nesting sea turtles are loggerhead turtles which come onto the beach at night to dig a nest and lay their eggs without drawing the attention of predators like a raccoon.
Those wishing to stay up late can walk along the beach at night using a red-filter flashlight to search for any turtle signs. Loggerheads only come ashore to nest, spending their entire life at sea, and leave a clearly defined track in the sand where they drag themselves up to the dunes above the high-tide line.
Witnessing a large loggerhead sea turtle at night is an experience that triggers an emotional response for some. Their ancient cycle of life continues to succeed, with baby turtle hatchlings emerging from the nest about 60-days later.
The temperature of the sand helps the eggs develop and determines the sex of each egg. When the hatchlings make a spirited dash towards the ocean, they become ingrained on that particular beach, giving them a sense of home if and when they return to nest as a mature sea turtle in the future.
As technology evolves, scientists are using DNA extracted from hatchling eggshells to track generations of female loggerheads that return to specific beaches over time. This exclusivity give turtle teams all the motivation they need to steward the turtles that visit their area since that means future nesting success too.
Increasing numbers of sea turtles on the beaches means that more interaction with the public is possible, including their canine companions. As long as people keep a respectable distance, these instances can also be teachable moments to educate others about ocean conservation.
Since sea turtles like to eat jellyfish, they mistakenly consume pollution like balloons and plastic bags that can be detrimental to their life. Barrier islands and turtle enthusiasts are currently stressing how to use recycled and compostable bags, cups, and straws in everyday life.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources conducts loggerhead turtle trawls at sea every year to tag and track individuals, but also to measure the relative health of their ecosystem. Other sea turtles occasionally encountered include leatherback sea turtles and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
If an unhealthy sea turtle is encountered, it can be sent to a sea turtle hospital. These hospitals are common along coastal areas and are sometimes associated with organizations like the South Carolina Aquarium located in Charleston. These sea turtles can be nursed back to health and then are released back into the ocean.
Of course sea turtles occur in oceans around the globe, and June 16 is the annual World Sea Turtle Day to raise awareness about how anyone can make a positive difference for the turtles.
Despite not many hatchlings making it to maturity, their species have been around for millions of years.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019