Sea turtle nesting season patrols set to start walking beaches

By the Editorial Board

One evening last June, Linda Mataya, co-leader of the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol, responded to a report of a nesting turtle being disturbed and she went to an unincorporated area south of the city near Apache Pier. Horry County Police Department officers had already arrived and were protecting the turtle.

The officers had warned away, but did not arrest, people who were tormenting the turtle. Mataya shares the story to illustrate “it’s taking a village to protect these sea turtles.” She cannot say enough about how law enforcement agencies, including those of Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, are a vital part in protecting sea turtles all along the S.C. coast.

The turtle nesting near Apache Pier returned to the ocean after laying 103 eggs. The nest was relocated and 52 days later, 63 hatchlings emerged. Not to worry about moving the nest; loggerheads do not return to their nests. In 2015, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, sea turtles made 5,095 nests on S.C. beaches. Only five of those nests were made by other than loggerheads.

Patrols begin May 1 in North Myrtle Beach and Waties Island. The Waties patrol is led by Karen Fuss, graduate student servicers coordinator in the School of Coastal and Marine Systems Science at Coastal Carolina University. Students and faculty members conduct research on the CCU part of Waties, a two-and-a-half mile long barrier island. About 50 sea turtle volunteers patrol the entire island. At a recent training session, Fuss recognized many familiar faces among the volunteers. “This is our 10th year,” Fuss says.

The North Myrtle Beach patrol covers nine miles of beach in the city plus two miles in Briarcliffe Acres. In 2015, turtles made 17 nests in the area, nine in the two miles of Briarcliffe beach. The nine miles of North Myrtle Beach are in four sections, each a little over two miles. Typically, four volunteers walk each section starting at sunrise, every day. On Section B, from Main Street to Sea Mountain Highway, the same group (7 volunteers) “ has been doing that every Friday morning since 2010,” when the patrol started.

Mataya and co-leader Rob Kayton have approximately 110 volunteers. Some walk more than once a week, perhaps as substitutes for the regular walkers. “We don’t turn down anybody who has an interest and can make a commitment for the summer.” On her Facebook, Mataya has almost 4,500 followers. “We still get contacts from all over ... Ohio, Michigan, and once in a while comments in a foreign language.” The latter usually are from South America or Germany. She uses an application to translate the comments. “It has just taken off,” she says of the widespread interest in sea turtles.

The city of Myrtle Beach does not have a patrol and nests are reported to Ann Malys-Wilson, ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park. Nests from Myrtle Beach are relocated to the park. Malys-Wilson has led the park’s sea turtle patrol for many years. That patrol will begin the second week of May. On May 7, the park is again offering several programs related to sea turtles. There is no cost other than admission to the park. “Totally Turtles” is up on the park’s webpage at www.myrtlebeachsp.com

S.C. waters inhabited by loggerheads

Sea turtles are endangered or threatened and protected by law. Four species of sea turtles inhabit S.C. coastal waters: loggerhead, green, leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley. Females make nests beginning in May through mid-August. Hatchlings emerge from July through October.

In 2015, turtles made 5,095 nests on S.C. beaches. Cape Island has 1,357 nests and Lighthouse Island 397, Botany Bay Plantation 326; Hilton Head Island 325; Kiawah Island 321.

Report sea turtle sightings or crawls

Report turtle sightings or any disturbance of sea turtles to any area law enforcement agency. Sightings or crawls may be reported to the North Myrtle Beach Turtle Patrol hotline: 843-213-9074.

Report dead or injured turtles to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources: 1-800-922-5432

For more information on the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol, contact co-leader Linda Mataya by email: nmbturtles@hotmail.com