More than 1,000 loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings have made
safely into the waters off Waites Island, S.C., this summer thanks to a
little help from their friends at Coastal Carolina University.
The Loggerhead Sea Turtles Protection Program sponsored by the
Center for Marine and Wetland Studies at Coastal is in its seventh year
of monitoring and preserving sea turtle nests on Waites Island. South
Carolina has the second highest number of loggerhead nesting areas in
the United States, following Florida. The U.S. federal government has
listed the loggerhead as a threatened species worldwide.
"The decline of the female sea turtles populations is a result of
the exploitation of their eggs and adults, destruction and alteration
of their habitat and the indirect capture and killing in fishing and
shrimping nets," said Eric Koepfler, program director and associate
professor of marine science at Coastal.
The loggerhead turtle nesting period takes place from May through
September. Female turtles, which reach reproduction age between 20 to
30 years old, will usually lay several nests during one season and may
nest every two to three years. Each egg chamber, which the female
carves in the sand with her rear flippers, contains an average of 120
flexible eggs about the size of ping pong balls.
It takes roughly 60 days for the eggs to hatch. The hatchlings
will emerge at night and then travel to the brightest light source
which, in pristine environments, is the light reflecting off the ocean.
In areas with extensive beachfront development the hatchlings may be
attracted to lighting away from the ocean. It is estimated that only
one in a 1,000 to one in 10,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood. Waites
Island has about six to 15 nests per season, which would result in just
one hatchling reaching maturity, according to Koepfler.
Each season around 20 Coastal students as well as faculty and
community volunteers assist in the research and monitoring of the
"Our objective is to find nests and, when necessary, relocate them
to less dangerous locations," said Koepfler. 'The nests are then
covered with screening for protection. Once the eggs hatch, the nests
are surveyed to determine the hatching success rate.'
According to Koepfler, the gender of sea turtles is determined by
the incubation temperature that is experienced during the first third
of the incubation process. Low temperatures produce females while
higher temperatures produce males.
Coastal's sea turtle protection program works closely with South
Carolina's Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine
Waites Island, one of the few remaining undeveloped stretches
along South Carolina's Atlantic coast, provides 1,062 acres of pristine
barrier island and a natural laboratory for extensive study in marine
science and wetland biology for Coastal students.