CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — More loggerhead turtle nests were counted on South Carolina beaches this year than in 2020, according to state Department of Natural Resources data.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports officials counted more than 5,600 sea turtle nests this year, with data still being tallied. The final 2020 count was 5,560.
That remains below the state's two biggest years, with 6,446 nests counted in 2016 and 8,774 in 2019.
The state’s first nest was reported on May 5 on Seabrook Island. The town of Kiawah Island said its last nest was counted Oct. 10.
In July, volunteers found a rare two-headed sea turtle hatchling while conducting an inventory at Edisto Beach. As far as the park specialists know, this was a first for the beach. The turtle was released into the Atlantic Ocean.
Loggerheads are the Palmetto State’s primary nesting sea turtles. But the department this year reported a Kemp’s ridley nest and five green sea turtle nests.
Last year, 16% of nests were washed away, including some by Hurricane Isaias, said state DNR state sea turtle coordinator Michelle Pate. This year, 3.4% of eggs were lost.
Pate said a larger share of lost eggs were eaten by predators this year, including coyotes, foxes and raccoons.
“That’s probably where a majority of our losses this year occurred," she said.
Workers will sometimes install plastic screens or metal wire cages over nests to protect them from predators, but Pate said workers sometimes find a nest too late.
“You’re just not out there soon enough in order to get some of those protective measures, like screens or cages, down on those nests right when they’re laid," Pate said.
More than 1,300 volunteers monitor more than 30 beaches in South Carolina for sea turtle nests, Pate said.
This year was the 40th anniversary of the formal establishment of DNR’s volunteer sea turtle stranding and salvage network. That work includes responding to sick, injured and dead sea turtles along the coast.