Weather News

‘Hopeful’: Here’s how Beaufort County’s sea turtle nests fared after Hurricane Dorian

When evacuation was ordered last Monday ahead of Hurricane Dorian, some Hilton Head residents of the reptile variety heeded the warning.

Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island posted a photograph to its Facebook page showing more than a dozen loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings waddling their way to sea.

The post, with the caption “Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings comply with mandatory evacuation order,” seemed to make an otherwise stressed and anxious Lowcountry community smile for moment. The post was shared more than 2,000 times and had 1,200 likes and close to 100 comments.

The photo was taken during the group’s final patrol before the storm was set to roll through, said Amber Kuehn, marine biologist and director of the nonprofit patrol.

In preparation for whatever Dorian would bring, the patrol took extra time to pound the poles marking the nests further into the sand in hopes that the water wouldn’t wash away the markers.

“They are hard to find without the poles, but we have GPS on all of them and will find them either way,” Kuehn said.

About 90 nests were left on the beach Monday, she said, and Turtle Patrol members went out Friday to check on the status of each of them. During that initial assessment, the team found all the nests but two, Kuehn said.

She said there’s no way to know the “success” of the individual nests until they’re allowed to inventory them at 70 days.

“These evaluations can sometimes reveal that the nest hatched while we were away,” Kuehn explained.

It’s been a record-setting year for sea turtle nests across the Carolinas.

On Friday, another post on the Hilton Head group’s Facebook page reported that nearly 30,500 hatchlings had emerged from nests on Hilton Head Island this season.

Kuehn explained that nests that were washed over by the tide could be fine if the tide went right back out.

“If they sat underwater for any amount of time, they are drowned,” she said.

Friends of Hunting Island Sea Turtle Conservation Project posted a rundown of the 47 known nests remaining on that beach at the time of the storm evacuation.

Of those, at least 9 nests were washed away by the storm. About a dozen others were known to be washed over but still could hatch.

“More damage and debris on Park roads than on beach,” the post reads. “Storm surge tides didn’t get much higher than last weeks king tide!”

The king tides — exceptionally high tides when the moon is closest to the Earth — were tough on Harbor Island’s sea turtle nests, said Jan Grimsley, one of the permit holders and volunteers with the Harbor Island Turtle Program.

Volunteers, who had just gotten electricity and water back in their homes, were out on Harbor Island’s beach assessing nests just before midday Saturday.

“I can say that we have been able to find several that we marked,” Grimsley said. “We are hoping.”

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Lana Ferguson has reported on a smorgasbord of news for The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette since June 2018. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was editor of the college’s daily newspaper.
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Lisa Wilson is a reporter for The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The 25-year newsroom veteran has worked for papers in Louisiana and Mississippi and is happy to call the Lowcountry home.