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** Archived Article - please check for current information. **

Sept. 27, 2011

4,011 sea turtle nests observed during 2011 season

As the 2011 sea turtle nesting comes to end, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Marine Turtle Conservation Program reports that approximately 4,011 sea turtle nests were laid this season on beaches that are monitored. In addition to nesting by the loggerhead sea turtle, we have had one green sea turtle nest on Cape Island and four leatherback nests (three on Hilton Head Island and one on Hunting Island State Park).
Hurricane Irene passed the beaches of South Carolina on Aug. 26, 2011. While the majority of South Carolina residents were not severely affected by the storm, the sea turtle nests that were still incubating were significantly affected. Preliminary counts indicate that 50% of the nests (379) that were still incubating were lost. Because many nests hatched prior to the storm, approximately 9% of the total nests laid in 2011 were lost during this storm. The Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (CRNWR) was hit especially hard since it comprises 25% to 30% of the state’s nesting effort. CRNWR reported approximately 1,448 nests this year, and it is estimated that 160 out of the remaining 215 nests were lost on Cape, Lighthouse, and Bull Islands, collectively. 

Some nests that were initially thought to be lost to the storm due to tidal inundation and sand accumulation have actually hatched. Therefore, the actual number of nests lost to Irene will not be known until all remaining nest sites have had the opportunity to hatch.
Sea turtle stranding response and necropsies (post-mortem examinations) are an important component of DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program. In 2011, there have been 125 sea turtle strandings (turtles that wash ashore alive and dead) in South Carolina. Twenty-seven of these turtles were alive at the time of stranding. The mean number of sea turtle strandings since 2000 is 127. Sick or injured live turtles that strand along the coast are retrieved for rehabilitation at the South Carolina Aquarium. Twenty-six sea turtles that were rehabilitated have been released to date this year. These turtles included cold-stunned turtles that stranded in North Carolina and live strandings from South Carolina. Dead turtles are necropsied to examine probable cause of death, food habits and gender. Twenty-four necropsies have been performed by DNR staff. To keep up with strandings in South Carolina in real time or for more detailed information, visit the online stranding database provided by Seaturtle.org.
Survey effort at index nesting beaches in South Carolina from 1982 – 2011 did not vary among years. The natural trend includes high, medium and low years. Both 2010 and 2011 were good years.  It remains to be seen as to whether or not the 2012 nesting season will follow this trend.  Nesting prior to 1982 was much denser in South Carolina with over 2000 nests solely on Cape Island in the early 1970’s. Currently, Cape Island has an average of 1,000 nests per year.Loggerhead nests graphic
The DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program is also participating in a multi-state project along with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the North Carolina Wildlife and Resources Commission and the University of Georgia to answer several basic loggerhead sea turtle nesting questions. The answers to these questions will help biologists better understand the status of the loggerhead population. Currently, the actual number of loggerhead sea turtles that nest in South Carolina is not known. We will use DNA genetic fingerprinting (CSI for sea turtles) to identify individual loggerhead nesting females, how many nests they are laying each year, and how long they go in between nesting years. This information will provide a much more accurate census of the actual nesting population. This year (2011) marks year two of this project. In 2010 and 2011, 3150 (91.6% analyzed with 911 unique females) and 4011 (33.3% analyzed with 496 unique females) samples were collected, respectively.
Although the genetic analysis is not complete, several interesting results have already emerged. Between June 11 and July 30, 2010, one female nested on Ossabaw Island (GA), then laid a nest on Kiawah Island (SC), and then nested twice on Cape Lookout National Seashore (NC). This female traveled great distances between nesting events, but another sea turtle currently holds the record for maximum recorded beaches visited in one season. One loggerhead laid nests on five different beaches: Daufuskie Island (SC), Hilton Head Island (SC), Seabrook Island (SC), Folly Beach (SC), and Cape Lookout National Seashore (NC). Most females are showing strong nest site fidelity. For example, one individual female laid all six of her nests on Cape Island, SC between May 21 and July 16, 2010. This female also holds the record for the maximum number of nests (6) laid to date.
You can follow the progress of this study on our genetics study webpage provided by Seaturtle.org.
What you can do to help sea turtles in South Carolina!

The DNR Marine Turtle Conservation Program is responsible for managing and protecting sea turtle populations in the state of South Carolina. The sea turtle nest laying season in South Carolina is May through August, with peak nesting in mid-June. The ten-year average nest incubation duration for a loggerhead sea turtle is 55-60 days. Nests begin to hatch around mid- to late July and hatchlings continue to emerge through October. After a turtle nest has hatched, DNR staff and cooperators evaluate the contents of the hatched nest to determine the success of each nest.
To keep up with nesting in South Carolina in real time along with more detailed information, visit the online nest database provided by Seaturtle.org.

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