If you’re visiting Charleston beaches over the summer and into the early fall you may not realize the important activity that happens in the middle of the night. Our local beaches are a nesting ground for loggerhead sea turtles.
The female turtles lumber onto the beaches to lay their eggs – usually about 100 – in a deep hole in the sand. The eggs are about the size of a ping-pong ball. Local volunteers patrol the beaches each morning during nesting season to look for telltale tracks that lead to a new nest. Nests are often marked so visitors know not to disturb the area. What’s interesting about the females is that they come ashore to nest on the very beach where they were born more than 20 years ago.
Then 45 to 60 days later, dozens of tiny turtles emerge from the nests in the middle of the night, using the light of the moon as a guide to the ocean waters. According to FollyTurtles.com, it is estimated that just 1 in 1,000 turtle hatchlings actually live to reproduce. Many of the babies are eaten by crabs, raccoons, sea birds and fish. Plus, they are in danger from humans – egg and meat consumption, careless boating, long-line fishing and beachfront development.
It’s also important to note that beach visitors should never disturb a nest or hatchlings. Because the turtles are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, so disturbing a sea turtle nest is a federal crime subject to large fines and jail time.
How you can help protect the sea turtles:
- Never disturb a sea turtle crawling to or from the ocean.
- Once a sea turtle has begun nesting, observe her only from a distance.
- Do not shine lights on a sea turtle or take flash photography.
- Turn out all lights visible from the beach, dusk to dawn, from May through October.
- Turn off all outdoor and deck lighting to reduce disorientation for nesting adults and hatchlings.
- Close blinds and drapes on windows that face the beach or ocean.
- Fill in holes on the beach at the end of each day as adults and hatchlings can become trapped.
- Do not leave beach chairs, tents etc. on the beach overnight.
- Never attempt to ride a sea turtle.
- If you discover a dead or injured turtle, call 800-922-5431.
(photo/Folly Turtle Team)