This year’s sea turtle nesting season, which wrapped up last month, was the second best the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts organization has ever seen.
“It was a great year,” said Jeff McClary, co-founder of SCUTE.
There were 164 nests this year in SCUTE’s coverage area, which extends from Garden City to DeBordieu. Last year’s 205 nests were a record.
DeBordieu and Hobcaw usually account for 30 to 40 percent of SCUTE’s nests, and that trend improved this year with those beaches recording 73 nests.
It was the second best nesting year for DeBordieu and Hobcaw according to Betsy Brabson, who is in charge of DeBordieu’s brigade of nearly 30 SCUTE volunteers.
The record for nests on the two beaches was 75 in 1995.
The first DeBordieu nest this year was found on May 4, the earliest ever.
McClary said there were very few nests this year that had to be relocated. DeBordieu volunteers only relocated 14 nests.
“Turtles are pretty good about putting the nest in optimum conditions,” Brabson said.
For years, it was believed that female turtles returned to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. But DNA testing on eggs, which began a few years ago, has led to a startling conclusion: some females nest on numerous beaches.
Brabson said one turtle nested at Hobcaw and Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Some turtles, however, remain dedicated to one beach.
McClary said Garden City had five nests in a matter of few days and all within 150 yards of each other. One turtle actually messed up the equipment guarding one nest before depositing her eggs about 3 feet away. He suspects it might have been the same turtle.
Even more unusual about the five nests was that they were all from green sea turtles. The entire state only had seven green sea turtle nests all season.
Brabson said DeBordieu volunteers encountered only one stranding this season and had no problems with people leaving exterior house lights on.
A well-lit house on Pawleys Island caused 32 hatchlings to head into the dunes toward the end of the season. SCUTE volunteers dug through the sand to rescue the hatchlings and kept them warm in their pockets and a bucket before releasing them in the ocean.
“It exemplifies why lighting and turtles don’t mix,” Brabson said.
DeBordieu did have problems with holes in the sands and coyotes.
“Coyotes are smart and on the increase,” Brabson said.
One SCUTE volunteer saw the same coyote on the beach and then days later saw it eating road kill on Highway 17.
Nesting along the South Carolinas coast increased over last year. According to SCDNR, there were 4,596 loggerhead nests, seven green, and one leatherback this year. Last year there were 4,020 loggerhead nests, one green, and four leatherback.
The year 2012 had the highest amount of loggerhead nests since 1982.
McClary attributes some of the increase to the fact that more areas were surveyed this year.
Although DNR is only about halfway through its analysis of the 2012 season, more than 1,400 unique female turtles have been identified.
“We’re optimistic that maybe our efforts over the past 20 years have paid off,” Brabson said.
Sea turtle enthusiasts can now show their love on their cars, SUVs and trucks.
The S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has changed its endangered species license plates to include a picture of a sea turtle.
Cost is $30 in addition to the normal registration fee and the extra funds are donated to the Nongame Wildlife and Natural Areas Fund.
By Chris Sokoloski
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