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South Carolina Department
of Natural Resources

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First sea turtle nest of 2024 reported in Garden City

April 29, 2024

South Carolina’s sea turtle nesting season has begun a couple days earlier than normal with a loggerhead nest reported in Garden City.

Trained volunteers (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources permit number MTP524) with the Garden City Surfside Sea Turtle Guardians located the nest this morning while walking the beach. They are among the team of over 1,500 volunteers and biologists that will regularly patrol South Carolina’s beaches through October to count, monitor and protect sea turtle nests.

May 1 traditionally marks the beginning of sea turtle season in South Carolina, but recent sea turtle activity indicated nesting might begin early this year. Last week, volunteers with North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol noted the first ‘false crawl’ of the season, made by a loggerhead female who came ashore but returned to sea without nesting. Other early nest years include Folly Beach on April 29 in 2002 and Kiawah Island on April 26 in 2019.

"With warmer winter conditions and observations of mating loggerheads, there was some expectation that nesting would begin sooner than May, especially after the initial false crawl reported," said biologist Michelle Pate, who oversees SCDNR's sea turtle nesting program. "We ask that beachfront residents and visitors recreating on our coast turn off lights at night as sea turtles begin this annual ritual of nesting."

Nesting requires a great deal of energy, so female sea turtles do not lay eggs every year. This cyclical pattern of nesting results in fluctuating nest numbers from year to year. It’s not unusual for record-breaking years (like 2019; 8,795 nests) to follow low nesting years (like 2018; 2,766).

Overall, sea turtle nest numbers across the Southeast have trended up over the past decade, making biologists across the region optimistic that these threatened reptiles are beginning to recover after several decades of conservation efforts.

South Carolina Sea Turtle Nest Numbers

  • 2018: 2,766
  • 2019: 8,795 (highest on record)
  • 2020: 5,560
  • 2021: 5,644
  • 2022: 7,996
  • 2023: 6,618

Four sea turtle species nest on South Carolina beaches: loggerheads, greens, Kemp’s ridleys, and leatherbacks. All four species are classified as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act in addition to state law. Loggerhead nests comprise the majority of the state’s total number each year.

Sea turtle clutches average 120 eggs and hatch after approximately 60 days. Nesting females may remain in South Carolina waters and continue to nest every two weeks, laying up to six nests per season. Throughout this stressful time, the turtles also abstain from eating.

South Carolina beachgoers can help the state’s sea turtles by keeping beaches clean, turning beachfront lights out to avoid disorienting turtles, and giving all sea turtles and nests a wide and respectful berth when encountered on the beach.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Reminders

  • Report all sick/injured/dead sea turtles and nest disturbances to the SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431 so that staff/volunteers can respond as soon as possible.
  • Respect boating laws and boat cautiously, especially in small tidal creeks where sea turtles like to feed. Boat strikes have emerged as the leading cause of death for sea turtles in South Carolina.
  • Keep artificial lights off the beach at night during nesting season – this includes beachfront property lights and flash photography, which can disorient nesting mothers and hatchlings.
  • Always respect sea turtles by observing them from a distance on the beach. Individuals that violate federal law by harming or interfering with sea turtles or their nests can be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 and up to a year’s imprisonment.
  • Keep our beaches and ocean clean by avoiding single-use plastics. Plastic bags and balloons are among the most common trash items found on South Carolina beaches and can cause injury or death when sea turtles mistake them for food.
  • Promote and support our program for continued conservation of sea turtles in South Carolina.

Learn More About Sea Turtles in South Carolina