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Sea turtles: Nesting season off to a brisk start

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Sea turtle nesting season started early in Georgetown County this year.

The first nest was laid on Mother’s Day at North Litchfield, a full week earlier than in 2010, said Jeff McClary, a co-founder and head of S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts. The volunteer group monitors nesting activity and reports the information to the state Department of Natural Resources.

As of Wednesday, the group had recorded 26 nests in Georgetown and Horry counties. This time last year, seven nests had been recorded.

The two most recent nests were found Wednesday morning at Hobcaw Beach and on North Myrtle Beach. That brings the total to three for Hobcaw and two in North Myrtle.

There are six nests recorded at Pawleys Island, five on Huntington Beach and at North Litchfield, three at DeBordieu and Prince George, and one each at Litchfield Beach and Litchfield By the Sea.

It’s a good start, McClary said, “but I always hold my breath until we beat last year’s numbers. Really, I hold my breath until we surpass 43, which was our worst year on record.”

That was about six years ago. Last year’s total was 77, but there were 138 in 2008. The average is about 100.

“We’re still a month and a half away from peak nesting time, so there’s plenty of time for this year’s numbers to go up,” McClary said.

The area occasionally gets a rare nest of Kemp’s ridley or green sea turtle eggs, but all this year’s nests have been laid by loggerheads so far.

This week’s nest on North Myrtle Beach had to be moved by volunteers. That happens when nests are laid in unsafe spots, such those very close to walkways, but McClary said 95 percent of the nests SCUTE records are “natural.”

“That means she made a good choice in nesting, so we haven’t had to relocate it,” McClary said.

An earlier start to nesting means hatchlings should start emerging in early July this year. Incubation time for sea turtle eggs is about 60 days.

Three days after a nest hatches, SCUTE volunteers inventory it to get information about how many eggs it contained and how many hatched.

Inventories often turn up baby turtles in the nest, so people who show up to watch have a chance to see the hatchings head out to sea.

To keep up with nesting activity and find out when inventories are scheduled, check SCUTE’s Facebook page.

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