Did you know that the beach in front of Wild Dunes is one of the favorite nesting spots for sea turtles in Isle of Palms? Read our conversation with Mary Pringle of the Isle of Palms Turtle Team to learn more about this endangered species and what we can all do to help...
Mary, what is your title and who is the Isle of Palms Turtle Team?
[Mary] I am the Project Leader for the Island Turtle Team, which is only one of 22 groups of volunteers in S.C. working for the Department of Natural Resources to protect Loggerheads and their nests.
How long have you been with the IOP Turtle Team and what are the teams goals?
[Mary] I've been working with loggerheads on the Isle of Palms since 1998. Our permit from SCDNR allows us to identify and mark nests, rescue and release hatchlings, conduct hatching success evaluations, use probes to locate eggs, relocate nests, screen nests from predators if necessary, measure & mark dead sea turtles, and transport or transfer sea turtle specimens in SC.
Are sea turtle counts currently increasing or decreasing and why?
[Mary] Over many years all sea turtle populations have been decreasing due to the poaching of nests, killing of turtles for their meat, and accidental deaths by commercial fisheries. Other threats to their population include watercraft interaction, disease, cold stunning, natural predators, entanglement in fishing gear, light pollution, nesting habitat degredation, and beach erosion. In 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, loggerhead nesting is declining 1.9% annually.
Now let's talk turtles. Where do they come from? Where do they usually lay eggs and how many at a time? And, when is nesting season?
[Mary] Loggerheads who were hatched here return to nest here if they are females, but it takes 25-30 years for them to mature and return to their native beaches. They nest on any sandy beaches on the east coast from North Carolina to Florida. South Carolina has the largest population of Loggerheads north of Jacksonville, Florida and it is a separate "subpopulation" that does not interbreed with the loggerheads in Florida. So it is very important that we preserve the loggerheads in our state. They lay over 100 eggs in each nest between May 1st and August 15th. These eggs hatch between mid July and perhaps as late as October 31st.
How is this nesting season shaping up? Where are you finding nests this year?
[Mary] Loggerhead nesting does fluctuate from year to year, normally with several good years and then one low nesting year all over the coast. This year is one of the normal or good years. The Isle of Palms usually gets about 30-40 nests each year, and we are hoping for at least 30 this season. I believe that the turtles who were hatched on the northern end of the island 25 or 30 years ago and who are now mature, are returning to that area. At the time they were hatched this was an under-developed, largely uninhabited area. Now they are returning to find more people and more development. For this reason it is important to give them and their nests as much protection as possible. More than half of this year's nests were laid north of 46th Avenue (9 of 14), but most were relocated from their original locations because of unsuitable beach topography. Those areas of the beach that are very flat are prone to flooding which prevents egg development.
What factors disrupt successful hatching?
[Mary] Problems that inhibit successful nesting include: tents, chairs, and other beach debris that are left out on the beach overnight, holes more than a few inches deep left by beachgoers who fail to fill them in, trash - especially plastic bags that can get into the water and resemble jellyfish (one of their favorite foods) - blocking their digestive systems & causing death, and lights visible from the beach that discourage females from nesting and disorient hatchlings trying to find the ocean.
What can Wild Dunes and our guests do to help this summer?
1. Turn off beachfront lights (this is an Isle of Palms law), close curtains or move lamps away from oceanfront windows.
2. Remove tents, chairs, umbrellas from the beach each night (this is an Isle of Palms law), do not leave items behind on the beach and fill in any holes that may have been dug during a day of fun on the beach (building sandcastles, etc.).
3. If you see a loggerhead coming out of the ocean to nest, please do not approach her, make noise or shine flashlights.
4. If you see a hatchling on the beach or an injured turtle or tracks that have not been found, call the Isle of Palms police at 843-886-6522 or the Wild Dunes Operator at 843-886-6000.
Where can guests learn more information about sea turtles?
[Mary] The Island Turtle Team website. You can also find lots of great information at the SC Department of Natural Resources website as well as the South Carolina Aquarium site and at www.seaturtle.org.
See more sea turtle photos in our Turtle Talk photo album on Facebook!
Photo credit: Barbara Bergwerf