By the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for Island Eye News

A loggerhead turtle chick pauses for a moment as it makes its way from the nest to the nearby waves of the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by Michael Georgopulos)

South Carolina’s official sea turtle nesting season ended on October 31 with welcome news.

Data collected by agency staff and its volunteer network showed an estimated 8,004 nests were made on state beaches this year, the second-highest number on record. “We are pleased with another successful nesting year for sea turtles along the South Carolina coast,” said Michelle Pate, director of nesting programs for the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

“Increased nest numbers since the mid to late 2000s are promising for the loggerhead; We are seeing the continued benefits of conservation measures put in place decades ago, as well as management techniques still in use today.” Most nests in South Carolina are owned by loggerhead turtles, which accounted for over 99% of nests in 2022. But loggerhead turtles weren’t the only species visiting the coast this year. Green sea turtles laid an estimated 21 nests on beaches from Myrtle Beach to Edisto Island, a record number for South Carolina. The endangered green sea turtle is a rare nest breeder on state beaches, but young greens are more common in South Carolina’s salt marshes and tidal streams, where they find shelter and food. In late September, Hurricane Ian hit beaches north of Charleston hard — including the state’s densest nesting islands in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. The Category 1 storm made landfall south of Georgetown. “Fortunately, most of the nests had already hatched when the storm hit us,” said Pate. “But continued and severe inundation by King Tides [seasonally high tides] Earlier in the season, many eggs became unusable.” Overall, King Tides and Hurricane Ian reduced nesting habitat for nesting females by eroding beaches, including recently renovated beaches. A season’s success story unfolded in the town of Edisto Beach, where work to reduce the hazards of artificial lighting continued to pay off. Sea turtles rely on the light of the night horizon to navigate, making both nesting mothers and hatching juveniles very sensitive to artificial light. Repeated instances of sea turtle disorientation due to nearby street and beach lights prompted the City of Edisto Beach to secure a federal grant in 2020 to install new, turtle-friendly streetlights. Using Dominion energy, the lights were installed in 2021, and cases of disorientation in hatchlings decreased that year. Beach lighting remains a persistent problem elsewhere, particularly on the busy, heavily lit beaches of Hilton Head Island and Grand Strand. South Carolina’s federal goal for loggerhead restoration is 9,200 nests. The number of nests is just one of many considerations and milestones that are part of the national loggerhead turtle recovery plan, but they are part of a growing body of research that suggests the species is on a positive path.

You can support the SCDNR Sea Turtle Conservation Program by purchasing an endangered species sea turtle tag or by contributing to the Endangered Wildlife Fund when you pay your taxes.