Area sea turtle patrols are preparing to begin daily walks of beaches, from Waties Island southward, looking for nests of loggerhead turtles. South Carolina had a record 6,000 nests in 2016, following a record 5,000-plus in 2015.
Volunteers will start daily walks in early May, the start of nesting by female loggerheads. They crawl ashore, dig nests in the sand, deposit eggs, cover them and return to the ocean. Sea turtle patrols look for crawler tracks of the turtles in the sand. When located, nests are protected from predators such as foxes and raccoons. One egg is taken for research at the University of Georgia, Athens. Nests below the high tide line are relocated, so they will not be flooded. Nests found in the city of Myrtle Beach are routinely relocated to Myrtle Beach State Park.
The vast majority of S.C. sea turtle nests are those of loggerheads. Other species of sea turtles in S.C. waters are green, leatherback and Kemp’s ridley. Few leatherbacks nest on U.S. beaches. Leatherbacks are migrating and may be spotted from piers such as the one at Myrtle Beach State Park. Ranger Ann Malys Wilson it’s still early in the season for leatherbacks.
This is the eighth season of patrolling for Linda Mataya and the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol she helped organize after walking the beach of Waties Island. “We’re set to start walking on May 1,” Mataya said Tuesday. She has a Department of Natural Resources permit required for handling eggs and relocating nests.
“We have well over 100 volunteers,” she said. “We started with 12 people and have never had difficulty having enough volunteers.”
Mataya’s patrol includes nine miles of oceanfront in the city of North Myrtle Beach and Atlantic Beach, plus two miles in Briarcliffe Acres.
This year, more Briarcliffe Acres residents are volunteers. In 2016, Mataya’s volunteers located and watched only eight nests in the 11-mile stretch. Volunteers walk approximately two-mile segments; some walk alone, some in pairs or more.
Before nesting, it’s been a busy time for sea turtles.
“Since April 4, we’ve had six strandings, including three live strandings,” Mataya said.
One was a young green sea turtle and another a hybrid as well as a loggerhead. The three are at the S.C. Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center in Charleston.
Waties is an undeveloped barrier island, two and a half miles in length. Karen Fuss of Coastal Carolina University has been the DNR permit holder for 11 years.
“We don’t turn anybody down,” she said of people wanting to participate.
The Waties volunteers are largely from Little River and North Myrtle Beach, but also include CCU undergraduate and graduate students. Because of where parking is located, Waties walkers do two-mile and half-mile segments, or four- and one-mile round trips.
Fuss is holding training Saturday for an estimated 50 volunteers.
“We had 28 nests in 2016 – the biggest year since I’ve been the permit holder,” she said. Waties Island is protected and not open to the public, so it has “a lot of vegetation including dunes with sea oats,” which help hold sand on the beach.
The University of Georgia research shows that very few loggerheads nest every year, although some do. The DNA research also shows the females do not necessarily nest in the same places.
To learn more about the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol, contact Linda Mataya:
Phone | (843) 213-9074
Email | firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the Waties Island patrol, contact Karen Fuss:
Email | email@example.com
For websites on sea turtles, search online for sc sea turtles.