LIVING GREEN for Nov. 8, 2012

For Weekly SurgeNovember 5, 2012 

Sea turtles dig the dark

On my way to work, I pass by a simple billboard that truly catches my attention. It simply has a photo of a sea turtle on it and the caption says "Be the Voice, for those who have no voice."  Animals are my heart, especially those that we can help.

So this billboard made me wonder about our area's sea turtle nesting population because a summer ago I was a volunteer. Every Sunday morning, my friend and I went to the beach around 4:30 a.m. to go on a turtle walk. Yes, it was early, but we were dedicated, always had coffee and enjoyed each other's company. Those mornings we searched for sea turtle nests, turtle tracks and any other possible evidence of a sea turtle nesting. We lucked out and found a nest during our volunteer season and my friend was even present during the hatching. It was epic. We even celebrated every Sunday walk with breakfast at a pancake house. If you're interested in a valued volunteer job and love animals, this is definitely one of those. One of the most important aspects of conserving the sea turtle population is protection.

The sea turtle nesting period in our area is from May through October, when female sea turtles come ashore between May and mid-August to lay their eggs on the beach. Then between July and October, baby turtles hatch and head to the ocean. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE), sea turtles laid 4,604 nests this year, which was a record number on South Carolina beaches. Of the total, 4,596 nests were laid by loggerhead sea turtles, seven were laid by green sea turtles and one from a leatherback sea turtle. This is the highest record since 1982 and it was only back in 2004 when these turtles laid less than 350 nests. It is such a huge difference that experts are calling this year another banner year for the sea turtle population. According to SCUTE and past experiences, only one in 10,000 hatchlings survive into adulthood, which takes 25 years. Each nest may contain about 100 eggs, so multiply that and we will hopefully have about 46 surviving sea turtles born in South Carolina.

Loggerhead sea turtles are a threatened species in the Southeast region. One of the greatest threats to sea turtles are humans, which include the loss of the nesting habitat due to development and human disturbances. But conservation efforts are paying off and there are about 30 volunteer sea turtle projects along our coastline. South Carolina is a national leader in training volunteer groups to monitor nests and relocate threatened nests. SCUTE is a group of volunteers dedicated to sea turtle conservation in Georgetown and Horry counties. Organized in 1990, SCUTE is permitted by the SCDNR to protect and relocate turtle nests as well as record turtle deaths through the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. SCUTE's area stretches from North Myrtle Beach to Georgetown.

The "Lights Out, Sea Turtles Dig the Dark" campaign by Santee Cooper, SCDNR and SCUTE promotes the awareness of dimming lights on the shore, so newly hatched sea turtles can use the natural moonlight to find their way to the ocean. When a hatchling sea turtle is attracted away from the ocean towards a direct or indirect source of light, biologists describe this as a disorientation event. The hatchlings become disoriented and crawl away from the ocean towards the brightest light. During this disorientation event, hatchlings are more susceptible to predators.

If you would like to help promote this campaign, e-mail at santeecooper@santeecooper.com and request a bumper sticker for your vehicle.

For more information on the loggerhead sea turtle or to get involved for the next nesting season, contact SCUTE at 237-9821 or 235-8755 or e-mail scute1@aol.com.

Jennifer Sellers is the sustainability coordinator at Coastal Carolina University and offers her eco-views at her blog, mygreenglasses.com. Contact her at jen@mygreenglasses.com.

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