Record number of sea turtle counted

achristnovich@beaufortgazette.comNovember 4, 2012 

Times are getting better if you're a sea turtle.

A record number of sea turtle nests were reported in South Carolina this season, according to data from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Of 4,604 loggerhead sea turtle nests on the state's beaches, 544 were counted on Hilton Head, Daufuskie and Fripp islands and at Hunting Island State Park.

It's the highest number of nests recorded in the state in the past 30 years, according to DNR's website.

Last year -- and 2010 -- also were record-breaking, with 4,024 and 3,150 nests respectively.

The growing numbers could be a sign of recovery after decades of decline for sea turtle populations, according to Amy Tressler, project manager for the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project.

A female loggerhead typically begins to mate when she is 25 to 30 years old.

"Hopefully our early protective efforts started in the '80s are coming full circle," she said, adding the Hilton Head Island protection efforts began in 1985. "Our hope is certainly that what we did long ago is paying off now."

Hilton Head beaches had the highest nest count in Beaufort County at 319. That's about double what it was 10 years ago, according to records kept by DNR's Turtle Conservation Program.

This year, a record 120 nests were reported at Hunting Island State Park -- about twice as many as in 2011 and 10 more than in 2010, according to the same records. The frequency of turtles laying eggs there has quadrupled since 2002.

Daufuskie Island recorded 68 nests, compared to 69 in 2011 and 65 in 2010. In 2007 -- the first year DNR used its Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring System -- only 19 nests were found.

Fripp Island recorded 37 nests this year. Last year, a record number of 69 nests were reported; however, the island's average since the turn of the century is about 34 nests.

"We have an important job in protecting these areas," Tressler said of Beaufort County's sandy loggerhead nesting grounds. "Seeing those numbers consistently go up is really exciting."

Related content:

Coastal Discovery Museum, loggerhead turtle information

Sea turtle nesting maps

Sea turtle nests might set records including first leatherback recorded on Hilton Head Island, June 30, 2011 VIDEO: First sea turtle hatchlings of season come from Harbor Island nest, July 13, 2012

Hilton Head sea turtle nesting off to early, promising start, June 27, 2012

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