Sea Turtle patrols in Georgetown and Horry counties and along the Carolinas are making ready for another sea turtle nesting season, beginning in May with the first nests and continuing into October with the last of the hatchlings.
Jeff McClary of Pawleys Island is in his 30th year of helping protect loggerheads and other sea turtles. He is a founder of S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts or SCUTE, the umbrella organization for the area turtle patrols. McClary says the cool spring suggests nesting later in May, after several days of higher temperatures that warm the ocean water. The patrols will begin in May and continue into October. From May into August, female loggerheads will crawl ashore and make nests in the sand, laying 100 or more eggs in the cavity. The adults return to the ocean. Eggs hatch in six to eight weeks, starting in mid-July and continuing into October.
Female sea turtles, largely loggerheads in South Carolina, do not return to any of the several nests they may make in a season. The hatchlings are on their own, and generally do not need human help in making their way to the ocean.
Certainly the adults coming ashore to lay their eggs do not need human contact of any kind. Indeed, it is illegal to disturb sea turtles or their nests. Linda Mataya of the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol cautions everyone to not put turtles in the ocean. A turtle on the beach does not mean it’s a sea turtle and putting one in the ocean sould kill it. Mataya, responding to reports of turtles on the beach, has returned marsh turtles to the Waccamaw River. Sea turtles that are on the beach and not nesting most likely are sick or injured. Such sightings should be reported, either to the police department or turtle patrol in your area.
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The North Myrtle Beach SCUTE group is ready to start walking the beach every morning starting May 1. That patrol includes Briarcliffe Acres. The volunteers, including many who started when the patrol started in 2010, walk the beach starting at sunrise – before beach activity. They look for crawler tracks left by the female adult. Nests are marked and the eggs counted. Turtle nests in high traffic areas are moved as are nests made below the high-tide line. Mataya has 84 full-time volunteers and 10 substitutes. Her patrol’s season is dedicated to Beverly Wilson of Westminster, Md., who died April 16.
The Garden City Beach patrol covers about six miles of beach and Sue Habermeier reports a half dozen new volunteers among her group of 26. She is encouraging property owners to use turtle friendly lighting outside.
The Myrtle Beach State Park patrol has six new groups in the 50-plus group. Ranger Ann Malys Wilson plans to start the patrol May 13, because of the colder water. Last year a record 4,600 sea turtle nests were marked on the state’s beaches. The increased number of nests recorded surely is partly because of the dedicated volunteers who walk the beaches on behalf of loggerheads and other sea turtles.