CHARLESTON — A record number of sea turtle nests were found along the South Carolina coast during 2012, according to new figures from the state Department of Natural Resources.
The figures show that more than 4,600 turtle nests were found during the 2012 nesting season, according to a report Monday by The Post and Courier of Charleston. But the numbers may be a bit deceiving. Officials say that more beaches than ever are being monitored, so more nests are being discovered.
There are definitely more turtles out there, said DuBose Griffin, the turtle program coordinator for DNR.
Almost 2,000 nests were found last nesting season along the states six beaches that traditionally have the most nests. Nine years ago, only 400 nests were recorded on those same beaches, and scientists are working to try to figure out why nesting numbers vary so widely over the years.
Its been 25 years since South Carolina became the first state to require that turtle excluder devices be put on shrimp boats so turtles dont get tangled in shrimp nets.
Scientists say the recent increases in the number of nesting turtles could be in part due to more turtles surviving. It takes two or three decades for loggerhead turtles to reach sexual maturity.
To better study the turtles, scientists have taken 21,000 genetic samples from turtle egg shells found along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia. By doing so, they have been able identify about 5,500 individual turtles, as well as locations where many of them made their nests.
Joe Nairn, a conservation genetics professor at the University of Georgia, said scientists have been able to determine that some females lay more than one nest, and some lay as many as seven during their lives.
We can tell each turtle apart, he said. We can tell which turtle laid which nest.
The information will also be helpful in determining where turtles go to nest if their usual nesting beach is lost to storm or tides.