Fripp Island sees near-record sea turtle nesting season

Fripp Island sees near-record sea turtle nesting seasonFripp Island is nearing its record for sea turtle nests this season along its beach. On Monday morning, the Fripp Island Turtle Patrol discovered the 113th nest, inching nearer to the island’s record of 117 nests reached just last year.

Last year, Fripp Island’s totals set island-best records with 117 nests producing 9,772 hatchlings with an average hatch success rate of 75%. The island also lost 3 nests to storms, which would have taken it to 120, total. The overall nesting success rate was 93.8%, with 153 False Crawls/non-nesting emergences which accounts for a 43.3% beach success rate on the Island.

It’s been a good year all-around on our local sea islands. Hunting Island and Harbor Island are seeing great nesting numbers, and we’ve also seen nests erupt with hatchlings at Coffin Point Beach on St. Helena Island just last week.

In fact, Fripp wasn’t alone last year. The whole state saw a new record.

In 2016. the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources biologists reported that 6,444 loggerhead sea turtle nests were laid in 2016 on state beaches, surpassing the previous record of 5,193 set in 2013.

Standardized surveys from 1982-2016 indicate an upward trend in nest count numbers in six of the last seven years, DNR said. “Annual fluctuations in nest counts are expected, but this upward trend is an indication that we are seeing the beginning of recovery for the loggerhead species,” said Michelle Pate, SCDNR sea turtle program coordinator.

To date, the agency’s program has helped more than 7 million hatchlings reach the Atlantic Ocean, contributing significantly to loggerhead conservation efforts.

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“While South Carolina has not reached our federal Loggerhead Recovery Plan annual nest criteria, we are optimistic for the future,” Pate said. Under the plan, South Carolina’s target goal is 9,200 nests.

SCDNR biologists have participated for over seven years in a multi-state project using genetics to answer several basic loggerhead sea turtle nesting questions. Researchers are using genetic fingerprinting to identify individual loggerhead nesting females, how many nests they are laying each year and how long they go in between nesting years. This information will provide a more accurate census of the female nesting population.

A loggerhead turtle nest is marked at Fripp Island.

A loggerhead turtle nest is marked at Fripp Island.

Time will tell how close Fripp Island and the rest of the state gets to its record before this season ends.

It sure is fun to watch.

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