We had a successful night walk on Saturday with a view of a turtle laying eggs, covering and returning to the ocean. This turtle also had bioluminescence on her carapace, causing her shell to glow when she would throw sand backwards. While measuring her carapace and checking for a PIT tag she was making some noises at us, clearly she was a turtle that meant business! We wait until she is late stage covering to measure and check for tags in case it would disturb the turtle. She finished up covering then made a turn for the ocean. While she was nesting, the group got to use the night vision monoculars to get a view of her head, as we only keep the red light to the back of her and away from her field of view.
The following morning we documented this nest as 119 on the state park beach! There were 5 nests total that were documented during turtle patrol. See below for a few pictures taken during the morning turtle adventures.
We only had to walk half a mile and we got word from campers that there was a turtle ashore! We thanked them for keeping their distance and respecting the turtle to ensure she could nest without disturbance.
By the time we guided participants to the turtle, she had just finished laying eggs and was in the process of covering them. We watched as she moved and patted the sand to keep them protected. The turtle's carapace had a heavy presence of bioluminescence, which caused her shell to glow when she really started to throw sand. It was an amazing sight to see!
On the way back to the WIFI room after witnessing the turtle enter the ocean, we passed by one track, where a turtle was still ashore and another set where a turtle had already come and gone.
The following morning, our dawn patrol team recorded 5 new nests and 3 false crawls. The nest seen on the night walk is marked as 104 on the beach. The dawn patrol team also witnessed a sea turtle still ashore and heading back to the water at 6:30am!
See below for photos taken of some of the other turtle activity seen in the morning.
We walked to the inlet and back without a turtle sighting. We did see a short false crawl and were hopeful that turtle may appear again. After concluding the walk we did a final check past the white office building towards the Pavilion and spotted a turtle ashore! With the use of the night vision monocular, we noticed the turtle was still digging an egg chamber. We did not have to wait long and the turtle had started to lay eggs! We watched as she laid her eggs, covered and returned to the ocean. It was a long crawl as it was still low tide.
The next morning we documented this nest as 98 on our beach! We relocated the 133 eggs to a new location as the original nest was situated below the Spring high tide line. It is now protected with a new metal cage to deter raccoons from digging into the nest. We documented three new nests this morning and two false crawls including one during our dawn patrol, as a turtle started to emerge from the ocean but turned around shortly after. See photos below taken during the dawn patrol!
We held our first night walk of the season on June 6th!
As we were going through the presentation on the loggerhead sea turtle, we listened to heavy rain outside and saw flashes of lightning. We were still staying hopeful that it was a fast moving storm. Sure enough, we only had to wait another 15 minutes after the presentation wrapped up until it was safe enough to walk on the beach.
We went for the 1.5 mile walk to the inlet with no turtles seen. It was a tough walk with the high tide and natural beach debris. We did get to see a starry sky, a couple of shooting stars and some bioluminescence but sadly, no turtles were spotted.
The following morning on patrol we only found one nest. This nest had a very long crawl, so this turtle must have come ashore during the early hours of the morning. This nest is now documented as nest 75 on our beach! See below for pictures taken from the morning patrol!
If you visit a sea turtle nesting beach, it is important to follow the tips in the video below, to ensure sea turtles stay safe. You can do your part to help sea turtles!
We are now up to 24 nests and 14 false crawls at Edisto Beach State Park and 237 nests in the entire state of South Carolina. The turtle activity has really picked up the last couple of days with 6 nests and 1 false crawl documented yesterday and 4 nests and 2 false crawls today. The busiest nesting month is June so we should be seeing more and more activity in the days to come.
Every morning we are out on the beach, documenting the new sea turtle activity. If you see us out on the beach at sunrise, be sure to say hi! We love talking with and educating our beach goers on all we do to help protect the sea turtles.
I created a video on the first nest found this season, check it out below!
The first nest at Edisto Beach State Park was documented on May 9th. It was situated right in front of one of the beach day-use accesses. The nest was high enough that it did not require a relocation. One egg was taken for the genetics project and the rest remain down below to incubate for the next 45-60 days. We are looking forward to finding many more nests as we continue into the season!
Since May has arrived, we have started to monitor our beach every morning for new turtle activity. It has been a chilly start but we have been gifted beautiful sunrises! The first two nests in the state were documented on May 2nd at Cape Island and Tom Yawkey Wildlife Management Area.
We could be finding our first crawl any day now, so stay tuned!
I created an educational turtle talk video about the loggerhead sea turtle, the primary nesting species in South Carolina. Check it out below!
,I thought it would be fun to do something new this year and create day in the life vlog content. So far, the video content has not been super exciting as we still are waiting for the sea turtles to arrive. I am going to attempt to create one weekly vlog a week and share on my YouTube channel. Please hold me accountable as it will be easy to miss one (or two) during the busy season! I will also continue creating my more formal videos answering some top questions about sea turtles. So, if there is question you would like answered, be sure to leave it in the comments below.
Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you do not miss out on future fun videos:
The weather is warming up, cannonball jellyfish are washing in and the first few migrating leatherbacks have been spotted! Spring is here and the nesting sea turtles will be here before we know it. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to be done with organizing and preparing supplies, getting ready for the upcoming Turtle Fest event, volunteer meetings, installing shorebird and seabird fencing, and the list goes on.
We look forward to seeing new and familiar faces when we are out on turtle patrol! Be sure to say hi if you see us out working in the turtle cart.
Here is to a busy, fun and successful 2023 sea turtle nesting season!
I have been keeping busy creating new educational sea turtle content for my YouTube channel. Check out the video below, talking about why sand temperature is important to sea turtles and what projects are doing to determine the hatchling sex ratio. Subscribe and hit the bell to stay up to date on the latest videos!
Blog Post By: Christine Segnari, Sea Turtle Intern
The summer has come to an end! From Dawn Patrols to Night Walks, the Sea Turtle Interns have been very busy during our time here in Edisto. As part of our internship through Edisto Beach State Park, we participated in (and led), Dawn Patrols, Public Inventories, Night Patrols, Night Walks, and worked at the Environmental Learning Center. I’ve had a fantastic time at Edisto this summer! At the time of writing this post, we have 349 nests in the state park (only 3 nests away from breaking the record)!
During Dawn Patrols, we documented new nests and false crawls, took genetic samples, checked for any predator activity, and protected new nests by covering them with predator screens. Later in the season, we also set up light screens, completed nest inventories, and released any hatchlings found during these inventories. Light screens prevent hatchlings from going into the marsh instead of the ocean. Sometimes the lights behind the marsh are brighter than the moon, and the hatchlings get disorientated and head into the marsh.
Public Inventories began near the end of July. Every Wednesday and Friday night, we went out and dug up nests that had emerged 3-5 days before. We sorted the contents of the nest into 5 different categories: alive, dead, pipped, hatched, and unhatched. (If you want more information about our inventories, see my previous blog post.)
During Night Patrols, we monitored and recorded information about who was on the beach and what type of light they were using. Only red lights are allowed at Edisto Beach State Park due to a local ordinance, and we inform those who may not know about that ordinance. Sometimes, we do get lucky enough to see hatchlings or an adult Loggerhead.
Night Walks started at the beginning of June and went until the end of July. During this program, we would give a presentation on Loggerheads before taking 30 members of the public out to, hopefully, see a nesting turtle (or hatchlings depending on the month). This summer, we were around 85% successful at seeing turtle activity during this program.
At the Environmental Learning Center, we took care of the many animals, led educational programs, and answered phone calls. We fed the animals and gave them time to soak up the sun. Some of the programs we led or assisted in were Turtle Talk, Ravenous Reptiles, What’s on the Menu, and Gators of the Lowcountry. As part of the animal care, we ensured their tanks were clean and healthy.
We definitely stayed busy this summer and enjoyed meeting you all on the beach!
Blog Post By: Sarah Glover, Sea Turtle Intern
Once they hatch from their eggs, loggerhead sea turtles only have a 1 in 1000 chance of surviving to adulthood (30 years of age). These tough odds are why they have evolved to lay about 120 eggs per nest and 3-5 nests per season. As soon as the eggs are laid, the turtles face countless natural and human threats.
First of all, these turtles face several predators. On our beach, eggs are often predated by raccoons and ghost crabs. Coyotes also commonly dig into nests on other beaches such as Botany Bay. Laughing gulls are quick to scoop up hatchlings, especially when there is a crowd of people watching them make their crawl to the water (so don’t feed the birds – it makes them associate humans with food!). As adults, loggerhead sea turtles are hunted by tiger sharks. In some regions, sea turtles are even hunted by humans for their meat and shells, and eggs are taken by poachers.
Storms, natural coastal erosion, and rising temperatures also pose threats to loggerhead sea turtles. Storms may lead to nests being washed over. Nests can experience a few washovers. In fact, it is good for them to experience a few as this cools down the nest. However, too many washovers and the eggs can drown. Coastal erosion causes there to be less nesting grounds for the turtles. Rising temperatures can skew the male to female ratio in a nest. The sex of sea turtles is dependent on temperature (hot chicks, cool dudes), so if the nest gets too hot, then it will produce mainly females. Additionally, if the temperature gets too hot, then the whole nest may become unsuccessful.
The loggerhead sea turtles also face several human threats. Lights (both from houses and on the beach) can cause adults and hatchlings to become misorientated and disorientated. Misorientation is when the turtles move in the opposite direction of the ocean due to a brighter light source. Disorientation is when turtles move randomly before eventually finding their way to the ocean (making loops and turns). Plastic pollution also has a major impact on sea turtles. Plastic bags, for example, may look like a jellyfish floating in the water, which is a major food source for sea turtles.
In South Carolina, the number one cause of stranding is boat propellers. Since sea turtles have lungs, they need to come to the surface to breathe and often get struck by the propellers of passing boats. Fishing practices, such as ghost nets, hooks, and shrimp trollers, can harm sea turtles as well through entanglement and ingestion. However, thanks to the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), sea turtles are less at risk of being trapped in the nets of US shrimp trollers.
So remember, don’t use white lights on the beach from May-October, buy local sea food (to ensure a TED was used), and pick up your trash to help save the turtles!
We had our final night walk of the season on Saturday and it was another successful one! We were able to witness a straggler from one nest and then witness the major emergence of two other nests! It was like watching a pot boil as the hatchlings took their sweet time. Once they were ready, it was such a joy to watch them all crawl out together and make their quick dash to the ocean.
On our way back, we saw adult tracks but this turtle already came and left! Too bad we missed seeing the adult but still so happy to have had a fun and turtle-filled program.
The following morning we documented not one but two new nests! The other nest was laid by a turtle that emerged early in the morning as she had long tracks out and back to the ocean. There were 6 total nests that emerged as well. The nest we missed seeing is documented as 346 on the state park beach. That nest along with the other nest laid was in need of relocation. Nest 346 had 113 eggs and 347 had 144 eggs! See below for photos from dawn patrol.
Blog Post By: Dalton Moore, Sea Turtle Intern
Recently the interns and sea turtle specialist had the privilege of taking a behind-the-scenes tour of Charleston Aquariums Turtle Hospital. As it should be known, all species of sea turtles are either listed as endangered or threatened due to the increasing concerns that affect their populations. To protect these populations, the Hospital is in place to aid injured and sick sea turtles as well as the Department of Natural Resources. The Hospital has three mottos that the staff goes by to ensure safety and provide knowledge of all sea turtles.
Rescue, Rehab, and Release: When a stranded or injured sea turtle is found, SCDNR brings the animal to the Care Center. After the turtle has arrived, veterinarians will determine what the turtle is suffering from, whether it be predation, boat strikes, debilitated turtle syndrome, etc. The patients are then given fluids, vitamins, and antibiotics to help relieve the problem or solve the issue, dependent on the subject. Surgical procedures such as x-rays, ultrasounds, or CT scans may also be performed with certain conditions. Rehabilitated sea turtles will then be released back to the deep blue with the intent to become successful members of the sea turtle population.
Research and Conserve: The Care Center also works with the McNair Center for Sea Turtle Conservation and Research. This group serves as a research facility to continue to watch all 21 years of patients that have gone through the Turtle Hospital.
Educate and Inspire: The center is also encouraged to teach kids and adults about the conservation of sea turtles. The Hospital and Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery ensure that the rehabilitation of all sea turtles is visible to all guests that visit the Aquarium. The Hospital supplies interactive stations that enable guests to retain knowledge about sea turtles, causes of sea turtle stranding, etc. Tablets are also shared next to all patients within the Care Center to tell their unique stories and stages of recovery. Lastly, there is a window that gives you a peek of the surgical suite where guests can view medical procedures performed on sea turtles.
As soon as we stepped out onto the beach, our intern, Sarah, notified us that she saw hatchlings! There were 3 hatchlings that were stragglers from a nest that had previously emerged. We were so excited to see sea turtle activity already.
After a long trek to the inlet, there was no other sightings. However, at the inlet, Sarah radioed us that she saw a divot in one of the nests but saw no tracks. We did not have to wait long and the nest started to "boil" as the majority of the hatchlings crawled to the surface and made their dash to the ocean.
The following morning our dawn patrol team documented 7 new nests emergences! See below for the beautiful sunrise captured.
Our Tuesday night walk was a success! Shortly after we stepped onto the beach we had a nest emerging! We made it just in time as the hatchlings started making their mad dash. We continued to the inlet with the hope of also seeing a nesting sea turtle. We did not see an adult sea turtle but we did see bioluminescence, the big dipper and shooting stars!
The next morning, our dawn patrol team documented 8 nests that emerged overnight and 1 false crawl.
Blog Post By: Christine Segnari, Sea Turtle Intern
Now that it is the end of July, exciting events are happening—public nest inventories! While the complete nesting season (including laying nests and nests hatchings) lasts through October, female Loggerheads will stop nesting near the beginning of August. Through Edisto Beach State Park and South Carolina DNR, we conduct public inventories. During these public inventories, we will sort through multiple nests that hatched 3-5 days ago. We wait 3-5 days to allow as many turtles to hatch naturally as possible. There are 5 categories that we sort that nest into during inventories: alive, dead, pipped, unhatched, and hatched.
Live hatchlings found deep within the nest will be taken out of the nest and put into our inventory bucket. We will safely release these hatchlings into the ocean. Crawling out of the nest is extremely important for their development, so we will allow them to safely crawl into the ocean. However, if live hatchlings are found as soon as we begin digging into the nest, we will cover up the nest and wait another 3-5 days. Dead hatchlings (turtles that fully hatched out of their egg but did not survive) can result from a variety of circumstances. Sometimes they are not strong enough to get out of the nest, they might have crawled into an area of the sand that did not have air pockets, etc.
Pipped hatchlings refer to any hatchings that are underdeveloped and are still trapped in the egg with their upper body sticking out. Unfortunately, most of the time these hatchlings have died; however, we do occasionally find live pipped hatchlings. In this case, we will cover the hatchling in sand as we continue the inventory. At the end of that nest’s inventory, we will rebury that hatchling in the nest and put up all the signage again. That way, the hatchling has the best chance at a successful natural emergence.
Unhatched eggs are eggs that are still completely intact. Most likely, these eggs were unviable and were not able to form into turtles. Hatched eggs are the remains of the shell broken by the hatchling as it was trying to get out of the nest. In order for us to categorize it as a hatched egg, there must be 60% of the broken eggshell remaining or more.
I completed my first public inventory a few days ago, and it was an incredibly exciting experience. Over 100 people came to watch the inventory! We were able to educate them on Loggerhead nesting practices and show them some hatchlings. Though Laughing Gulls (one of the hatchling’s predators) were present, we were able to get all the hatchlings into the ocean safely. Once we finished with the inventory, we were lucky enough to see a boil over (when the hatchlings make their emergence out of the nest) at a nearby nest!
The turtles evaded us on our Saturday night walk. On our way down to the inlet, there were two nests that had already come and gone. There were no turtle sightings on the way back either.
The following morning we documented 1 new nest, 1 false crawl and 3 nests that emerged over night. Along with the new activity, the dawn patrol team conducted 5 nest inventories and installed another light screen. The morning started out stormy but thankfully cleared up so the team could complete all of the dawn patrol tasks.
We had an eventful night walk on Thursday with both hatchlings and an adult sea turtle seen! Our intern, Christine, was leading the walk tonight and was up ahead as the scout. She was notified by some campers that there was a sea turtle nest emerging! As we arrived the hatchlings were already making their run for the ocean. As it was a very dark night and the moon had not yet risen, the hatchlings were having a difficult time orientating themselves. By the time we left, all of the hatchlings were able to make their way to the ocean.
On the way back to the office building, there was a nesting sea turtle ashore! She had already finished laying but was in the process of covering her eggs. We watched as she took her time to make sure those eggs were protected. All in all it was another late but rewarding night!
The following morning, the dawn patrol team marked that nest as 338 on our state park beach. In total they documented 4 new nests, 1 false crawl and 3 nests that emerged. We are nearing closer and closer to our record season!
Blog Post By: Dalton Moore, Sea Turtle Intern
Loggerhead hatchlings are omnivores meaning they consume both animals and plants. Hatchlings will eat a variety of prey, including life-like sargassum seaweed, crustaceans, mollusks, hydrozoans, jellyfish, and fish eggs. After maturity, adults will convert to primary carnivorans, favoring crabs, whelks, and conchs. The loggerhead turtle is named for its large head, which supports powerful jaw muscles that enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey. Using their jaws, an adult loggerhead sea turtle can bite with the force of nearly 500 pounds allowing them to crush their desired meal.
The earliest of the seven species appeared on earth approximately 220 million years ago and evolved to hunt successfully beneath the surface. Unfortunately, there is a new item on the menu that is not nutritional. In fact, it is very harmful to not only Loggerheads but all species of sea turtles. That is plastic. Research suggests that 52% of the world's sea turtles have consumed plastic waste. This is simply because floating plastic bags or debris can look a lot like jellyfish, algae, or other species that formulate a significant component of the sea turtles' diets.
So, what happens to sea turtles that eat plastics? For approximately 22%, ingesting just one plastic item can be deadly. Bags can cause blockages of the intestines, leaving turtles unable to consume or digest, which may result in starvation. Sharp plastics can rupture internal organs. Even if they survive, consuming plastic can make turtles unnaturally buoyant, stunting their growth and leading to slow reproduction rates.
How can we help? With the odds stacked so heavily against sea turtles, it is challenging to take a stand. There are approximately 269,000 tons of plastic within the world's oceans. We need to begin to do our part to reduce plastic pollution by recycling and reducing single-use items. Governments also must step up to take accountability and end or at least mitigate this pollution epidemic. Also, if you discover a dead, sick, or injured sea turtle along South Carolina's coast, please call SCDNR's 24-hour hotline 1-800-922-5431.
Our night walk on Tuesday was for the Tour De Turtles participants. In the fall of 2021, South Carolina State Parks offered a new program called "Tour De Turtles". This paid and pre-registration program, let participants visit the coastal parks of South Carolina to experience different ranger-led sea turtle programs. At Edisto Beach State Park, the program feature was the Night Walk program.
The pressure was on last night as the two previous programs held at Myrtle Beach State Park and Huntington Beach State Park proved to be successful in sea turtle sightings. Thankfully the loggerheads did not disappoint on our beach as just a short walk down the beach, following the program, there was a sea turtle emerging! We witnessed her through the night vision monocular until she was in a safer stage. As a permitted walk, we then were able to guide participants in a way to ensure the sea turtle was not disturbed.
As we were witnessing the nesting sea turtle, there was an individual walking the beach with a white light, not associated with our group. After going to tell him to turn the lights off, there were two straggler hatchlings emerging from nest 59! We witnessed as they made their made dash down the beach and into the ocean.
The following morning we documented three new nests, one false crawl and no new nest emergences. The nest witnessed during our night walk program is marked as nest 332 on our state park beach. This nest was too low to the tide line and in need of relocation. This nest had 99 eggs that are now in a safer location. See below for several photos taken during the dawn patrol the next morning.
Blog Post By: Sarah Glover, Sea Turtle Intern
Our turtle program here at Edisto Beach State Park participates in a genetic study conducted by Dr. Brian Shamblin at the University of Georgia. This study takes place along the coast in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and in parts of Florida. For each nest laid on our beach, we take one egg and send its shell to UGA, where Dr. Shamblin’s team extracts the mothers DNA. This DNA study allows us to see where these mother turtles are nesting, as well as how many times they nest a season. We can even make family connections. We have had mother-daughter pairs nesting on our beach. We have even had nesting grandmothers!
It was once believed that sea turtles always returned to the beach that they hatched from. However, this study has proven that this is not necessarily the case. Since sea turtles use the earth’s magnetic field for navigation, they can find the general area, but not always the exact beach that they hatched from. Some turtles do nest on the same beach multiple times a season, so chances are, they hatched from that beach or a surrounding area. On the other hand, some turtles will nest on several beaches, even throughout multiple states.
The first guided night walk by Christine, our sea turtle intern, was a success! The turtles had us a bit worried at first as there were signs of new nest emergences but the hatchlings had already made their trek to the ocean. Once at the inlet we saw a nesting sea turtle had already been ashore, laid her eggs and then returned.
On our way back, we were delighted when Christine told us there was a nesting sea turtle ashore. We waited as she dug her egg chamber, watching from a distance with our night vision monocular. We witnessed her laying her eggs and then as she threw sand to cover them back up. The moon had risen and the clouds cleared when she headed back to the ocean.
It was a late night but a successful one! The following morning we documented 4 nests, 1 false crawl and 6 nests that emerged. The nest we witnessed during our program is now marked as 322 on our state park beach. See below for pictures taken during our dawn patrol.
Sea Turtle Biologist