061115 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Sea turtles: Loggerheads that washed up on island recover in hospital

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Two loggerhead sea turtles that washed up on either end of Pawleys Island this week are recovering at a hospital in Charleston.

“The telltale sign is they survived the first 24 hours,” said Kate Ditloff, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Aquarium where the turtles are in tanks at its Sea Turtle Hospital. “We’re actually transporting four turtles to North Carolina to free up space for new patients in filtered tanks,” Ditloff said.

The turtles are both juveniles, defined as under 30 years old. Their sex can’t be determined until they reach 30.

The first turtle, named Pawleys, was reported on the south end of the island around 7 a.m. Monday by a volunteer looking for nesting activity, said Jeff McClary, co-founder of SCUTE, which monitors nests. The second turtle, named Midway, was found floating in Midway Inlet by a kayaker around the same time.

Sea turtles don’t strand themselves like marine mammals, Ditloff said. They just get so weak that they wash ashore.

“Generally, these turtles are so resilient that when you get to them they’re beyond hope,” McClary said. He walked about a quarter mile toward Pawleys Island to get the first turtle. It was still crawling, he said, but it weighed less than 50 pounds and had marks on the back of its shell where it had once been hit by a boat.

Pawleys Island Police Officer Brian Folmer brought an all-terrain vehicle to carry the turtle back to the public parking lot. It was small enough to fit on the box on the back of the ATV, cushioned by a towel.

It was loaded in the SUV of Terry Senior, another SCUTE volunteer, and she and McClary headed north to get the second turtle.

Mary Schneider, the SCUTE volunteer who oversees nests on the island, reached Midway from the Litchfield Beach side. She commandeered a fishing boat to get it to the Third Street landing, helped by Walter McElveen, another volunteer.

Midway is larger, about twice the size of Pawleys, but still under 100 pounds. “Pawleys is one of the smallest turtles we’ve ever admitted,” Ditloff said. Midway is missing part of its right front flipper from an old accident. Both loggerheads were suffering from “debilitative turtle syndrome,” which encompasses a variety of problems. “It’s not a pretty sight,” McClary said.

Transporting the turtles to the hospital required using the air conditioning in Senior’s SUV to keep the temperature of the turtles stable, at 72 and 74 degrees. “We had to maintain that within 3 degrees all the way to Charleston,” McClary said.

The turtles received vitamins, antibiotics and fluids, Ditloff said. They will be at the hospital at least four months and could be there a year or two depending on how they respond to treatment, she said.

The hospital has 13 patients and room for a couple more. “We’ve been getting more and more patients every year,” Ditloff said. The aquarium is raising funds to expand the filtered tanks in order to take in more patients.

The hospital posts information about its patients online, where there is also information about its expansion project.

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