Loggerhead sea turtles come ashore Folly Beach, SC to lay their eggs between May and October. Despite popular belief, the females only nest every two to three years, and during their nesting season they can lay anywhere from two to five separate batches of eggs. Each of these batches, or nests, usually contains about 100 eggs which incubate for approximately 45 to 60 days. And, scientists think that they lay their eggs on the same beach they were born, but this topic is still up for debate. Scientists have found that only about 1 out of every 1000 hatchlings will survive until his or her time to reproduce many years later.
Many beaches in Charleston, SC and other coastal cities have sea turtle protection programs that help to improve this staggering statistic. At the beach at Folly, the program is called the Folly Beach Turtle Watch Program. Their group is made up of volunteers who walk the beach every morning during nesting season between 5:30 and 7:00 AM in search of turtle activity. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has licensed this non-commercial group, and DNR oversees the group in order to help keep the turtles safe and undisturbed.
Many residents and visitors of Folly Beach ask what they can do to help the sea turtles. We’ve collected some information from the group’s website (www.follyturtles.com) so that you can do your part to help the turtles.
1) If you see signs of sea turtle activity (their footprints look like tractor tire imprints), please call the Folly Beach Public Safety dispatcher at (843) 588-2433. If you’re near the dunes where they lay their eggs, be careful to not walk on a potential nest site. When you call the dispatcher, look at your surroundings so that you can give an accurate description of your location on the beach. Note what houses are closest to you, and look to see if there are any beach accesses nearby. The dispatcher will then contact one of the Crew members to check out the area.
2) If you live or vacation near the beach, be sure to turn off your floodlights and porch lights. Also, if you’re on the beachfront, close your curtains at night so that the light coming from inside your house doesn’t disturb the turtles. When the adult females come on shore to lay their eggs (and when the hatchlings try to make their way to the ocean), they use the light of the moon to find their way. Artificial lights from houses can easily disorient them, and they can quickly become lost. Many turtles wandering on the beach can die from dehydration or fall victim to hungry birds.
3) Sometimes dogs or other animals dig up a sea turtle’s nest. Like many sea turtle protection programs, the Folly Beach Turtle Watch Program clearly marks identified nests with an orange sign and tape. If you notice that a nest has been disturbed, please call the Folly Beach Public Safety dispatcher.
4) Pick up trash on the beach. Sea turtles (and other marine animals) can become entangled in fishing line and bags, and they can mistake our trash as food. Plastics can especially be harmful, so be sure to pick up trash like bottles, firework remnants, bags and fishing line.
5) Remove potential obstacles from the beach at the end of the day. If you have dug any large play holes in the sand, please fill them back in with sand after you or the kids have had your fun. Also, take chairs and beach toys off the beach at the end of the day. Hatchlings are only about two inches long, so they can easily become trapped as they make their way to the ocean.
It is a very long way for a hatchling to travel from the dunes of the beach to the Gulf Stream. Although many of the obstacles they face are completely natural, people are also partly to blame for the species’ struggle. Because loggerhead sea turtles are on the Endangered Species List, state and federal laws protect them. However, it is our responsibility to help the species survive.