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Sea turtles: County gets tough on beach furniture

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

In the past, people who left items such as cabanas, chairs and umbrellas on county beaches overnight would return to find a bright orange tag with a polite note.

Please take your items in at the end of the day, the note would request, as leaving them on the beach at night may interfere with sea turtle nesting activity.

In the future, those who leave items on the beach overnight may return to find them gone.

Under an amended ordinance that received second reading by Georgetown County Council this week, property left unattended on the beach after sunset will be deemed abandoned and the county will have the right to remove and take possession of it. Additionally, items will not be allowed within 25 feet of a sea turtle nest at any time.

Final reading of the amended ordinance is scheduled for Nov. 10. If it passes, as expected, it will be a victory for S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts, the group behind the orange property tags.

Volunteers with the group said they’re hopeful those who weren’t moved to take items in by a polite note will be urged to compliance by the new county rules and risk of losing their property.

“Some people do take their stuff down as a result of the tags, but other people, it’s like they’re collecting tags,” said Nancy Bracken, who organizes patrols of the beach in North Litchfield.

That’s the area volunteers say has had the biggest problem with items being left overnight. One morning in July, a walker in North Litchfield reported seeing 33 cabanas on the beach between walkways 1 and 8 at 6:30 a.m.

North Litchfield typically has very little turtle activity. Only one of the 69 nests the group recorded this year was in North Litchfield. Bracken said volunteers believe that may have something to do with the proliferation of items left on the beach.

“When you have multiple rows of houses and only a few public accesses, people have a tendency to leave their things, because it’s easier than picking them up and taking them back to the house. That’s a natural inclination, but it’s impeding the nesting and hatching of loggerhead sea turtles,” said Mary Schneider, a volunteer coordinator for SCUTE.

Sea turtles come ashore at night to nest in the dunes and can be deterred or entangled by items left on the beach. When nests hatch, items on the beach can prevent baby turtles, which are small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, from safely reaching the ocean.

The problem led volunteers to start tagging items on county beaches about a year and a half ago, something that had been successful in reducing abandoned items left on the beach at Pawleys Island.

“People cooperate on Pawleys Island, they really do” Schneider said. “We put the tag on and if in three days we see the people have not bothered to help us out, we tell the town about it and a patrolman will go by and ask them to please remove their things.”

She estimated the tags have a 90 percent success rate on the island.

“I can’t tell you why other areas haven’t gotten as much cooperation,” she said.

Bracken said folks who ignore the notes can often be persuaded to remove items if someone explains verbally why it’s important.

“Some people have questions and once you talk to them, they’ll remove it,” she said. But it not always possible for someone to go and talk to the owners.

The amended law, “gives it a little more enforcement than our polite tags have.”

SCUTE volunteers also urge beachgoers to be mindful of leaving litter on the beach. Though sea turtle nesting takes place from May through October, trash left on the beach harms other wildlife and can easily find it’s way into the ocean to harm marine life, including sea turtles.

Plastic bags, for example, are commonly ingested by sea turtles, which mistake them for jellyfish. The mistake is generally fatal.

“Plastic is the biggest danger to all of our wildlife,” Bracken said. “If people can just pick up litter they see on the beach, that can make a huge difference.

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