South Carolina sees record sea turtle nesting season

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources biologists have 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.

“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.

This is the seventh year SCDNR biologists have participated in a multi-state project using genetics to answer several basic loggerhead sea turtle nesting questions. Other participants include the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, North Carolina Wildlife and Resources Commission and University of Georgia.

A loggerhead turtle nest is marked at Fripp Island.

A loggerhead turtle nest is marked at Fripp Island.

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.

To date, 1,421 and 1,144 unique females have been identified from the 2015 and 2016 seasons, respectively.

Locally, Fripp Island had a record nesting season.

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Fripp Island’s totals for the season include 117 nests, producing 9,772 hatchlings with an average hatch success rate of 75%. 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.

“We had an amazing turtle season here on Fripp,” said program leader Janie Lackman. “Turtles had us all over the island all season long. Sadly, we also lost 3 nests to storms, which would have taken us to 120 total.”

Hunting and Harbor Islands also have reported big seasons as well.

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