Well, it is that time of year again! Loggerhead nesting time on our beaches here in South Carolina. When we moved here it was the dead of winter, but as a newbie I set out to explore my new surroundings. I was eager to become privy to everything this wonderful area offered. When I learned that Loggerhead turtles actually nest on the local beaches I was ecstatic! How cool would that be to see a hatchling scurrying toward the ocean? In. Real. Life. I envisioned myself as a volunteer S.C.U.T.E. member. (South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts) With visions of turtle hatchlings dancing in my head, I anxiously awaited turtle season. The awesome volunteers of S.C.U.T.E. monitor our beaches from mid May when the nesting begins to October when the last of the eggs hatch. Each morning a dedicated volunteer will walk their assigned beach looking for any sign of turtle activity.
Sometimes a female sea turtle will make a “false crawl”. That is where she comes ashore and crawls up towards the dunes, but for whatever reason, does not nest. Instead she returns to the sea. When a nest is verified, the volunteer will mark it appropriately and secure it with a metal cage to protect the eggs from predators.
If a nest is laid below the tide line, only authorized S.C.U.T.E. members can relocate it. Each nest is closely recorded and monitored. Once the eggs hatch, the hatchlings dig their way up through the sand toward the surface and wait just below the top layer of sand. It’s not until the sun sets and the temperatures cool, that they break through the sand and make their way towards the ocean.
It is fascinating to learn that the female loggerhead sea turtle will return to the exact spot on the exact beach where they were born to lay their own eggs. And……one of the S.C.U.T.E. members educated me on the incubation of these eggs. When eggs are in the nest during higher temperatures (about 90 degrees or higher) they will develop into females. Eggs incubated at lower temps (82 degrees or below) produce males!!! And of course those that incubate at temps in between will produce both males and females. Another fascinating fact that I did not know!!!
It is extremely important to continue to educate the public about the dangers and threats facing these fascinating animals. Around here we have a mantra of sorts…”Lights Out For Loggerheads.” Lights from beach houses and businesses are extremely detrimental to the successful nesting and subsequent survival of these amazing creatures. When artificial lights discourage the female from nesting on the beach, she will either lay her eggs in a less than ideal location or she may even deposit her eggs into the ocean where their chance for survival would be slim to none. Once the hatchlings emerge from the nest, their instincts lead them in the direction of the brightest light. Typically moonlight reflecting off the ocean. But when they become disoriented by the artificial lights from the beach homes they may crawl inland where they are sure to die of dehydration or fall prey to one of their many predators.
After the eggs hatch, the S.C.U.T.E. volunteers will inventory the nest. They will count and document the number of eggs hatched, the number of eggs that did not hatch and if there are any hatchlings still in the nest they will give them just the nudge they need to jump start them on their amazing journey.
On average, in South Carolina, the clutch size is 120 eggs! Sadly though, only one in a thousand of these babies will reach adulthood. It takes an incredible amount of dedication from these volunteers, as well as the conscious efforts made by visitors and residents alike. A reminder to everyone–Leave the beach as you found it, Fill in holes and knock down the sandcastles at the end of the day. For those people like myself who always come away with a bag of trash picked up during our daily beach walk. (Plastic bags resemble jellyfish, the favored food of a sea turtle.) Sometimes I think I look like a hobo heading back to my car. I usually have a bag full of trash in one hand, a deflated balloon on a string in another! It is definitely a concerted effort. An effort that is no doubt paying off. The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Hospital in Charleston takes in stranded turtles, where they are treated and rehabilitated and hopefully once released, can become reproductive members of the sea turtle population.
I long to catch a glimpse of a momma sea turtle making her way back to the ocean after nesting. So far, it is still on my bucket list. My early morning walks have afforded me the pleasure of sights like this though!
For now I am satisfied with having the experience of seeing these hatchlings. I did see a sea turtle in the water last week (from a distance). And a friend just sent me this picture, taken while surf fishing. It had been swimming right beside her!!! I told her I would have peed myself!! Lucky I didn’t see one that close!!!