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Sea turtles: It's a season for the record book as nest count nears 200

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

It looks like the number of sea turtle nests laid in Georgetown and Horry counties might reach 200 before the season ends.

As of Thursday morning, S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts, a volunteer group that monitors area sea turtle nesting activity, had recorded 199 nests from Georgetown to the North Carolina state line. Volunteers thought they had No. 199 in North Myrtle Beach on Tuesday, but the turtle made a U-turn back into the ocean without nesting. It returned overnight on Wednesday, they said.

No. 198 at Surfside Beach came as a surprise on Monday. It was a “wild nest” that hadn’t been recorded and hatched in the middle of the afternoon. Nests usually hatch at night.

Before this season, the record number of nests recorded was 148, set about 15 years ago, said Jeff McClary, SCUTE co-founder and head.

The high numbers are good news for sea turtles, which are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and McClary said he would like to see the numbers hit 200 this year. But he’s also hopeful nesting will wrap-up soon for the season.

Hatchlings from nests laid after mid-August are less likely to survive due to cooling water temperatures. Already, SCUTE has recorded nests that won’t hatch until October.

“You get into a situation where you have cold-stunned turtles and that type of thing, depending on how fast fall and winter hit us,” McClary said.

Sea turtles are cold-blooded, so they need the water temperature to be at least 70 degrees, he explained. If it’s not, “they hit that cold water and just stop,” McClary said.

Sea turtles already face a difficult enough time without the additional threat of cold, he said. Of every 1,000 hatchlings, only one will survive to adulthood.

McClary prefers nesting end by the second week of August. Last year, the last nest of the season was laid on Aug. 15.

Nesting season started early this year. The first nest was laid on Mother’s Day at North Litchfield, a full week earlier than in 2010. It remains to be seen if it ends any earlier than last year.

To learn more about sea turtles, their life cycles and the dangers they face, check out a nest inventory. SCUTE inventories nests three days after they hatch to record data for the state Department of Natural Resources. Volunteers are always on hand to talk about turtles and answer questions.

An inventory on the south end of Pawleys Island is scheduled for Friday. For details and to find out when more inventories are scheduled, visit SCUTE’s page fecebook.com.

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