Loggerheads in SC
Every year between May and August, Loggerhead turtles come to our beaches to lay their nests. The Island Turtle Team started on Isle of Palms more than 25 years ago to help protect nests and educate the public about these sea turtles.
The Island Turtle Team patrols the beaches of Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island beginning in May to check for turtle tracks and monitor nests. Pairs of volunteers walk the beach at sunrise looking for the turtle tracks. When they see the large distinctive tracks in the sand, they call in to report the location. A member of the team, certified by DNR, will meet them on the beach.
Our certified volunteer will determine whether the turtle laid a nest, the location of the nest, and whether the nest is located in a suitable spot where incoming tides and storm surges won’t wash over it.
If the nest appears to be in danger of being washed over by an incoming tide, the volunteers will relocate the nest to a more conducive site.
All nests are marked with a bright orange sign.
Sea Turtle Facts
There are seven species of sea turtles. They are in order of size: leatherback, green turtle, loggerhead, flatback, hawksbill, olive ridley, Kemp’s ridley.
All seven species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered and are protected by Federal and Local laws.
Loggerheads are the ones that commonly nest on the beaches in South Carolina, although occasionally, a green turtle or leatherback will make their way to shore.
Loggerheads are the third-largest sea turtle species. They average 3 feet in length and weigh 200 - 400 pounds.
Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island usually have a combined total of between 30 and 60 nests in a season.
It takes 25-30 years for Loggerheads to reach reproductive maturity and begin to nest.
Loggerheads may nest six times during a single season.
Nesting females avoid lighted beaches.
Loggerhead nests contain an average of 120 round, white eggs. They are about the same size and shape as a ping-pong ball.
Loggerhead eggs take 45 to 65 days to hatch, and most of the turtles hatch and emerge at the same time. This emergence is called a “boil” because of the tumultuous activity of so many turtles coming out at once. If a nest is laid late in the season, hatchlings can be emerging from their nests in October.
Hatchling turtles are attracted to light and often go the wrong way when streetlights, interior lights and landscape lights can be seen from the beach.
1 out of 1000 hatchlings survives to maturity.
Island Turtle Team volunteers are a part of a large network of volunteers that collect data for the Department of Natural Resources and for researchers working to protect sea turtles.
The number and location of turtle nests are recorded and reported every year.
One egg is removed from each nest (remember each nest contains an average of 120 eggs) and is submitted to researchers for DNA testing.
Thanks to DNA testing, we now know:
Turtles can nest up to 6 times in one season.
Turtles usually skip a year between nesting.
They do not always return to the same beach to nest but may choose to nest at different locations along the east coast.
Mother/daughter relationships have been discovered between nesting turtles.
Nesting Turtle Etiquette
If you are lucky enough to see an adult loggerhead coming to shore to nest or departing back to the sea, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE and DO NOT APPROACH or DISTURB.
Once she has dug the nest, you may watch quietly from behind as she drops the eggs into the nest chamber and then covers them.
ALLOW HER TO RETURN TO THE OCEAN UNDISTURBED. Don’t use Lights or Flash Photography.
Any movement, light, or sound may send her back to the ocean without nesting. She may return later, or she may drop her eggs in the sea.
Injured and Dead Sea Turtles are called strandings. These incidents are also reported and tracked by the Department of Natural Resources. Wounded turtles are transported to the Turtle South Carolina Aquarium for treatment and recovery. Often turtles can be released back to the ocean after they have recovered.
However, volunteers also collect data from dead sea turtles. These reports contribute to our understanding of the threats to the sea turtle population. Boat propellers, fishing nets, and shrimp trawlers can take a toll on turtle populations as the turtles gather near shore waiting to nest. But turtles may also be impacted by ingesting plastics, disease, and predation.
If you find a dead or injured turtle, call DNR to report the stranding. If you notice that the turtle has been marked with spray paint (typically neon orange paint), the stranding has already been reported. Do not remove or touch any tags.
You can HELP save and protect Sea Turtles
While you are enjoying the beach, you can look for turtle tracks. If someone has drawn a large X through the tracks, it means they have been reported. BUT if you are unsure, call the TURTLE TEAM.
Report any sightings of injured or dead sea turtles.
FILL IN Holes on the beach and Castle Moats when you leave the beach. Sandcastles and moats are fun entertainment on the beach, but please take your pictures and then fill in the holes and trenches. The hatchings and sometimes even adult nesting females can be flipped or trapped in a hole.
Sometimes the tide washes away a nest, or predators disturb a nest, and eggs can be out on the sand. Never move the eggs. Federal and Local laws protect turtle eggs and hatchlings. Tiny turtles inside eggs can be dislodged from their attachment to the eggshell. Call and report eggs if you find them.
Once in a while, a stray hatchling or two may be on the beach. Don’t Pick Up Hatchlings! If you see a hatchling struggling, call and report the sighting to the Turtle Team.
Protect the marked nests. Stay away from nests. Walking on the nest can crush the eggs in the chamber below. Keep pets away from nests.
Artificial lights affect the nesting and hatching sea turtles. Turtles nest at night in order to evade predators. Nesting females avoid brightly lit beaches. Tiny hatchlings emerge at night and are drawn to the reflected moonlight on the surface of the ocean and the white of the surf.
Instead of the safety of the nighttime sea, streetlights, headlights, interior lights, porch lights, landscape lighting and flashlights can disorient them and they can become lost and tangled in vegetation. If they fail to make it to the ocean, they may die in the morning sun from dehydration or be found by predators.
Local ordinances forbid lights that can be seen from the beach at night. Use motion sensor security lights and draw blinds or drapes at night on any windows facing the beach.