Our guest writer is Maria Delaney.
I am hoping this article will raise the awareness and provide you with tips on how you, your families, and friends can protect these beautiful creatures. Both my husband and I are members of the Myrtle Beach Chapter of CNPA. We love turtles and are members of the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts, S.C.U.T.E. S.C.U.T.E. volunteers are dedicated to sea turtle conservation in Georgetown and Horry counties and are permitted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, SCDNR, to protect and, if necessary, relocate turtle nests.
I retired to Pawleys Island in 2008 and he in 2010. As a retirement presents, we purchased Nikon D90s. This camera is awesome. When we were looking to retire and came to South Carolina, we saw that the Low Country had spectacular sunrises, sunsets, beaches, flora but most of all wildlife in every size and shape. We were particularly amazed and in awe of the Loggerhead, Green, and Kemp Ridley Turtles.
In 2007, we saw our first Loggerhead turtle hatching and were astonished at how precious they were and that they are on the endangered species list. We couldn’t wait to live in Pawleys full time and become active members in S.C.U.T.E.
Sea turtles have many natural hazards such as sharks, fish, birds, ghost crabs and erosion of nests, but they have faced these hazards for millions of years and have adapted to them. However, in the last few decades, man has added unnatural hazards such as buildings and seawalls on the dunes and beaches; illumination of the beach and coastal areas; firework ruminants, plastics, and fishing line littering the beach; tractors being driven on the beaches to manicure them; children leaving their deep dug holes unfilled; and adults leaving tents and chairs overnight; and people disturbing sea turtles as they nest at night. Therefore, it is important to know that artificial lighting can be hazardous to a mother sea turtle and the hatchlings when they are born. S.C.U.T.E. continues to work to control beachfront lighting, which disorients nesting female turtles and hatchlings. When loggerhead hatchlings emerge from the shell, they are attracted to the blue and green wavelengths of light, which are naturally reflected off the ocean through celestial light. They use this natural light cue to navigate from the nest towards the ocean. If an artificial light source on the beach is brighter than the natural light, the hatchlings will head towards this artificial source. The hatchlings become disoriented and crawl away from the ocean towards the brightest light and become more susceptible to nocturnal predators and desiccation. While crawling the wrong way on the beach, hatchlings exhaust valuable, limited energy needed to swim offshore. Hatchlings need energy once they reach the ocean to swim towards floating Sargassum seaweed found as far as 60 miles offshore. They use the seaweed as camouflage to protect them from predators. The seaweed is also home to small crustaceans that loggerhead hatchlings eat to replenish their energy. Thanks in part to the efforts of S.C.U.T.E., Georgetown County and the town of Pawleys Island have passed ordinances to limit beachfront lighting along their beaches. Beachfront lighting has been minimized in some areas of Horry County as well.
During their nesting season, May-October, as S.C.U.T.E. volunteers, we walk the beach early just before daybreak and look for tracks and remove debris. We discovered turtle tracks that avoided firework debris in order to lay her nest. This type of debris needs to be picked up from the beach. On another day we discovered tracks and unfortunately, the mother laid her eggs below the high tide line and the nest had to be relocated which consisted of 120 eggs. After relocating the nest, we place mesh fencing to protect the nest from predators. We monitored this particular nest during the incubation period approximately 55-60 days. We were surprised that on the 57 day, there was a depression in the nest area. Approximately 20 minutes later the hatchlings emerged which was truly amazing. We were able to count 110 of them as they were racing for the ocean and all that remained were their prints. As a photographer and a turtle lover it is extremely important that you never use a flash when shooting the hatchlings at night. For great shots use a tripod and the proper settings to capture these truly magnificent endangered species with harming them.
Three days later we conducted an inventory in the early evening as the sun was setting and were blessed with 5 other hatchlings. Inventories are a controlled setting with trained volunteers to dig up the nest and allow the weaker turtles a chance to survive. The trained volunteers will place the hatchlings that are still alive in a container and then release them. Locals and tourists attend these inventories. S.C.U.T.E. members educate the attendees about the Do’s and Don’t’s during turtle season. I donate my time on several Saturdays, passing out postcards to children asking them to be sworn deputies. They take an oath to fill in the holes they dig or see and to remind Mom and Dad to pick-up after themselves by not leaving firework debris, tents, and chairs on the beach overnight.
The South Carolina Aquarium has a turtle hospital, which aids sick and injured sea turtles through its sea Turtle Rescue Program. Once the injured turtles are nursed back to health the hospital personnel release the turtles to go home.
So please …
- fill in holes that are dug in the sand so that the mothers and hatchlings don’t fall in and expend their energy trying to climb out of the hole
- turn off lights or close the draperies if visiting, vacationing, or living full time on the beach so that the hatchlings aren’t disoriented
- don’t leave tents, chairs, toys out where the mother or the hatchlings can become tangled
- pick up litter so that mothers and hatchlings aren’t injured or have any barriers in reaching their home
If you are interested in obtaining more information, please visit the S.C.U.T.E. Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/SCUTE/36320641283 or www.Seaturtle.org.
You may visit my site at www.mariadelaney.com to see other images of these beautiful creatures or ask any questions regarding turtles. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the turtle photos, cards, and giclées go to support the adoption of a rescue turtle(s) at the South Carolina Turtle Hospital.