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Sea turtles: As one returns home, another strands nearby

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

One loggerhead is back at sea. Another is recovering at the Sea Turtle Hospital at the S.C. Aquarium from the effects of a shark bite. Along with the cycle of nesting and hatching that runs from May through October is the cycle of stranding, treatment and release.

“One in, one out,” said Jeff McClary, co-founder of S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts, a volunteer monitoring group. He was among the people who watched Saturday morning as a sea turtle that washed ashore in May was released at Huntington Beach State Park. He was on the phone Tuesday with volunteers after an injured loggerhead was found in Murrells Inlet, less than a mile from where the first turtle was released.

McClary has lost count of the number of strandings he’s seen this summer, probably about a dozen. Only four were alive. “We get a lot of strandings up here,” he said. “Some of them we end up burying.”

Those that get the attention are like the loggerhead that was named Magnolia. The chance to see a live sea turtle drew hundreds of people to the state park. The celebration Saturday morning was a different scene from the morning in May when the turtle was found awash at the edge of the surf at North Litchfield.

A woman walking the beach found the turtle and called SCUTE. The female turtle was emaciated. “She really wasn’t moving,” said Kathy Raley, who heads the SCUTE volunteers at North Litchfield. The turtle was covered in marine growth.

At the Sea Turtle Hospital in Charleston, a blood test showed the loggerhead was suffering from anemia and low glucose. It received fluids, vitamins and antibiotics through an IV drip. After a week, the turtle was swimming around looking for food.

Magnolia weighed 190 pounds. It was soon eating about 3 pounds of food a day and getting calcium to treat “bone decalcification caused by long-term malnutrition,” according to the hospital.

With space short at the hospital, Magnolia was transferred to Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. Turtles from the hospital are usually released on Charleston County beaches. “They don’t like to stress them,” McClary said, and that would happen if they drove them back to the beach they came from.

People were waiting at the beach before dawn when Magnolia arrived for its release. It was the first in this part of the state. “She had definitely put on weight,” Raley said. “Her color had changed.”

It took about 15 minutes for Magnolia to crawl down the beach and into the water, less than 2 miles from where she had been found at the end of Loggerhead Lane.

Like Magnolia, this week’s stranded loggerhead was also a female. “She had an old shark bite that took off most of her left front flipper,” McClary said. The turtle wasn’t as debilitated as Magnolia. “When I grabbed its flipper, it snatched it away,” he said. “Not in bad shape, but on the way to becoming bad.”

Terry Graham, SCUTE’s turtle transporter, drove it to Charleston in her SUV.

Hospitalized turtles usually get names associated with the place they were found. Litchfield Beach was once known as Magnolia Beach. The newest arrival will be named for the park’s namesake. “I heard they were going to call her Anna Hyatt,” McClary said. “They’re running out of names.”

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