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SC wildlife officials find first sea turtle nest of season

FILE - A nesting green sea turtle
Stefan Hunt
Wikimedia Commons

State wildlife officials in South Carolina are reporting the discovery of the season's first sea turtle nest.

Monday's discovery comes one day after the official start of the 2022 turtle nesting season.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said staff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found loggerhead sea turtle tracks in the sand on Lighthouse Island in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, WCSC-TV reported.

"We're excited and optimistic for a great nesting season for sea turtles along our coast," department biologist Michelle Pate, who leads the state's sea turtle nesting program, said.

Nest numbers have held steady for the last two years with 5,644 in 2021 and 5,560 nests in 2020, officials said. A record number of 8,795 nests were found in 2019.

Sea turtle clutches average 120 eggs and hatch after about 60 days. Females may remain in South Carolina waters and continue to nest every two weeks.

Four sea turtle species nest on South Carolina beaches: loggerheads, greens, Kemp's ridleys, and leatherbacks. All four species are classified as endangered or threatened and are protected under the Endangered Species Act in addition to local and state ordinances.

Wildlife officials said beachgoers can help the state's sea turtles by keeping beaches clean, turning off beachfront lights and giving turtles and nests a wide berth when encountered. People who violate federal law by harming or interfering with sea turtles or their nests can be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 and up to a year's imprisonment.