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2018 Harbor Island, SC Turtle Program

Harbor Island, SC Turtle Program

Happy May 1st and the start of the South Carolina Turtle Season!  Here’s some updated information on Harbor Island’s Turtle Program:

Greetings Harbor Island Homeowners,

My name is Jan Grimsley and I am a Harbor Island owner AND one of the 2018 Harbor Island Sea Turtle Nesting and Stranding Permit Holders. (Kathy Curry, an off-islander is also a Permit Holder for Harbor Island.) As the South Carolina sea turtle season is fast approaching, I thought I might share a bit of information about sea turtles and our program.

Did you know that Sea Turtles are just like us in many ways? They:

  • Breathe air
  • Like to travel
  • Eat seafood
  • Have a belly button (where yolk sac attaches)
  • Have 10 finger and toe bones

However one way in which they differ dramatically from us is that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

1 May marks the beginning of SC’s sea turtle season and the season runs through the end of October. Sea turtle nesting typically doesn’t start until mid-May; however Harbor Island has had a nest as early as the end of April.
Why is any of this important to you? We need your help as stewards of our beautiful island.

Protected Status. The Loggerhead sea turtle, South Carolina’s state reptile, is the species most likely to be found nesting on our beach. Loggerheads in the NW Atlantic population are listed as threatened and are protected by Federal and State laws. Touching sea turtles or their eggs without a permit is unlawful.

What can you do to help?

  • If you encounter a sea turtle on the beach, keep your distance. It’s okay to observe, but that requires that you remain still and at a distance.
  • Please report any human disturbances involving sea turtles, their nests or hatchlings to Harbor Island Security at 843.838.4890.
  • If you see a stranded sea turtle, please call 843.633.1639.

Nesting. Nesting typically begins mid-May and continues through July or early August. Adult females usually migrate hundreds of miles from their foraging grounds to beaches in the region where they were born. Once there, they leave the water at night, locate an appropriate spot, dig a nest cavity, deposit their eggs, recover and camouflage the nest, and return to the ocean. A nesting female loggerhead lays 3-5 nests averaging 120 eggs every two weeks. During this entire time, she does not eat. It is no wonder that a nesting female returns to her foraging grounds after a nesting season and takes 2-3 years to recover before beginning this process all over again.

What can you do to help?

  • If you own beachfront / beach facing property, please turn off exterior lights and close window coverings in beachfront rooms at night. If you rent your property, please educate renters.
  • Beachgoers – Please remove chairs and other gear from the beach each day. Sea turtles have become stuck within pop up tents, chairs, etc. and have also been known to return to the water without laying (i.e., a false crawl) if they bump into these sorts of items.
  • If you walk the beach at night, use a red filter flashlight to get from the board walk to the beachfront and then turn it off. Use it sparingly on the beach.
  • If you observe a sea turtle leaving the water and heading up the beach, stop moving. This may be your opportunity to watch it nest! However, movement and lights disturb sea turtles and will most likely cause it to turn around and return to the water. That same female may return to our beach over the next couple of nights to try again; however if continuously disturbed she will look for a less trafficked and potentially less desirable beach location to nest or perhaps even drop her eggs in the ocean.
  • No flash photography of sea turtles.
  • Please voluntarily leash pets.

Hatchlings. During mid to late July, hatchlings usually begin to emerge from the nest under the cover of darkness. Night time emergence is important for their survival as they are very vulnerable to predators (e.g., ghost crabs, shorebirds) during their dash to the water.

What can you do to help?

  • If you see large sand art / sand castles, moats, or large holes, please fill them in. These are huge obstacles to a cookie-sized hatchling.
  • Be observant if walking the beach at night. A hatchling is small enough to fit in your palm so watch where you step.
  • Please voluntarily leash pets.
  • Lights out on the beachfront is doubly important as hatchlings can become disoriented by beachfront lighting and end up wandering in the dunes vs dashing to the water.

Our Team. You’ll begin seeing Harbor Island Turtle Patrol Team members on our beach shortly after daybreak beginning 1 May. They are easily recognized as all wear coral colored t-shirts that identify them as team members. We are all volunteers who patrol the beach looking for sea turtle tracks, and protecting and inventorying nests as permitted by SCDNR. Kathy and I will oversee our beach efforts so you may see us delivering nest protection supplies via golf cart. Feel free to stop any of us and ask questions as we’d be happy to share what we know with you. (Ask us about the multi-state loggerhead genetics project.) Or join us at a Monday night Turtle Talk (i.e., from 5-6 every Monday evening – Memorial Day through the end of August) where we share more details about our program and sea turtles in general. Bring the kids as we have information geared to their level as well.

We thank you for serving as stewards of our community and as a team we promise to be respectful of you, your property, our beach and shorebirds, as well as new and returning sea turtles. I’ve pasted a few 2017 statistics below, but feel free to contact me with any questions at HarborTurtleTeam@gmail.com.

See you on the beach!

Harbor Island 2017 Project Summary

# Volunteers – 39

Total # Nests – 41

Total # False Crawls – 50

Nests Washed Away by Tide / Storm – 6

Hatchlings Emerged – 2,457 Average Incubation – 58 days