Turtle teams and DNR patrols scan beaches along the South Carolina coast every morning from May through October, searching for signs that a nesting loggerhead has made her maternal nocturnal trek.
Only trained and licensed DNR volunteers can dig out a nest or handle eggs. Teams will move a nest laid below the high tide line further into the dunes.
A mature female loggerhead returns to the sea after laying her eggs.
Volunteers count eggs that did not hatch and look for straggler babies.
The arduous journey to adulthood begins for four baby loggerheads who lagged behind when their siblings emerged three nights prior. It will be another 20 to 30 years before they reach reproductive maturity and return to a beach to continue the cycle.
Volunteers nudge babbies toward the ocean.
Onlookers watch an Isle of Palms team inventory a “boiled” (or hatched) nest, looking for stragglers.
Nest numbers are on the upswing, and the population of in-water turtles counted through DNR’s random sampling are up as well. A few years ago, Mike Arendt’s in-water trawl team re-caught the first turtle treated and released by the aquarium 10 years prior. She was healthy.
Return of the Ancient Mariner
Do's and Don'ts.
“These are definitely charismatic animals,” says Kelly Thorvalson of the S.C. Aquarium. People gravitate to and relate to sea turtles, and by becoming invested in turtle well being, they in turn become more interested in caring for the broader marine habitat.
After incubating in the sand dunes for 45 to 60 days, hatchlings must crawl to the ocean, make it past the breakers, and swim to the shelter of sargassum floats some 30 miles away.
Caretta, a female loggerhead who was raised in captivity, lives in the South Carolina Aquarium’s Great Ocean Tank.