SC sea turtles are laying eggs at a near record pace. But human interference is a threat.

·2 min read

South Carolina’s sea turtle hatchlings were largely able to avoid impacts from Hurricane Ian en route to one of the most successful breeding years in recent history.

More than 8,000 nests were recorded along beaches this season — including hundreds at Grand Strand locations from North Myrtle Beach to Pawleys Island.

The 8,004 recorded nests were the second highest amount on record and a 70 percent uptick from 2021 numbers.

“When I started this gig back in the 90s, if we got to a couple thousand nests we were doing well,” said Myrtle Beach State Park ranger Ann Wilson. “It hasn’t been a quick changeover and all the things we’re doing now, we can’t stop.”

Because sea turtles don’t hit sexual maturity until they’re between 25 and 35 years old, taking proactive steps to keep beaches clear of pollutants is vital to ensure their survival.

Michelle Pate, manager of the state’s marine turtle conservation program, told The Sun News Nov. 7 that several incidents of human interference during nesting season underscore some of the challenges turtles face.

“One incident, people were touching her and surrounding her,” Pate said. The North Myrtle Beach turtle rescue patrol - a volunteer group - stepped in to secure the scene and allow the animal to continue laying her eggs.

Another time, “people chased her into the dune and by early morning she was found stranded on a pool deck, unable to make her way to the ocean without assistance.”

That turtle was also placed back onto the beach by volunteers and returned to the ocean.

In all, more than a half million hatchlings were counted from the nests, nourishing populations of green and loggerhead species.

Those nests yielded more than a half million hatchlings, nourishing populations of green and loggerhead species.

“Human presence during the nesting process can be detrimental. Sea turtles perceive humans as predators and when a visitor or resident on the beach gets to close the nesting female will abandon her attempt to lay a nest and return to the ocean,” Pate said. “If she is continually harassed as she crawls onto the beach to nest, she may abort the eggs at sea or lay them closer to the ocean, which can make them more susceptible to over wash causing them to die before developing.”

Sea turtle nesting season typically runs from March through October, meaning by the time Hurricane Ian made landfall outside of Georgetown late last month, most hatches were complete.

But officials said dune erosion and habitat loss from the storm and other factors like continued development could hamper populations in future years.

“If Ian had been a month earlier, we’d be singing a different tune,” Wilson said.