Friends of Hunting Island and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle

By Wendy Pollitzer

Featured in The Island News

May 27, 2010

50531581d9777-Friends of Hunting Island

It’s that time of year again, time for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle to come ashore and nest in the Lowcountry.  And the Loggerhead couldn’t be more thankful than to the Friends of Hunting Island for helping her babies get back out to sea.

This season, a committee of dedicated volunteers who have helped with the conservation project for many years leads the Friends of Hunting Island Turtle Patrol.  The co-directors are Karen Whitehead, Buddy Lawrence, Denise Parsick, Gretchen Blickle, Mary Ann Waldrop, Dean Hewitt, Carolyn Westman, Cyndi Follrich and Laurel Rhoten.

The committee has met since November planning for the 2010 season. Each morning from May 15 until August 15, volunteers patrol the beach at Hunting Island in search of Loggerhead Sea Turtle tracks. Once found, the group determines if the nest was laid in a safe location. If the nest was buried below the spring high tide line, or if it’s in an area with frequent predators, the volunteers move the nest to a safer location.

The FOHI Turtle Patrol is made up of 122 families this year. This group is divided into 7 smaller groups classified by day.  And, on each day, smaller groups are broken up in order to patrol the beach that is separated into 6 zones. So, every morning at 6am for three solid months, the FOHI Turtle Patrol investigates nearly 6 miles of beach.

A particular problem this year is raccoon predation.  At the time this article was written, 5 nests were laid, and raccoons had attacked three of those. The volunteers do their very best to keep the pests out by putting extra screen on top of the nests and moving them to better locations; but the raccoons are smarter than we think. It’s a constant struggle to protect the nests from these natural predators.

In partnership with the staff at Hunting Island State Park, the FOHI Turtle Patrol share the permit issued by the SC Department of Natural Resources.  And all three organizations are participating in something brand new this year.

In coordination with Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, SCDNR and volunteer groups along the coast are conducting a new study this year that takes DNA samples from the eggshells. This research will allow DNR to determine how many times each mother came ashore in one season and where.

You see, a female Loggerhead can lay nests several times during a season. One mother who lays on Hunting might also travel to Fripp or Edisto to lay more. And each nest has and average of 100 eggs. So if one Loggerhead is nesting 4 or 5 times in a season, you can imagine how exhausted she is by August!

Nests usually hatch around the 60th day of incubation. After a boil (the term used when the majority of hatchlings emerge at once), volunteers then inventory the nest and determine the hatch and emergence success rates.

Last year, Hunting Island had a 81.2% nest success rate with 80 total nests and a hatch success rate of 57.4% That’s pretty good considering an estimated 8980 eggs were laid!

If you are interested in watching an inventory, please contact the Nature Center at Hunting Island at (843) 838-7437. Please keep in mind that inventories won’t begin until July or so, and it’s always a guess as to when a nest will hatch.

We are indebted to this dedicated group who, year after year, come out in the early morning hours, some from as far away as Sun City, to help our beloved Loggerhead Sea Turtle. Thank you Friends of Hunting Island for all of your hard work.

About Wendy

Wendy Pollitzer is a versatile writer living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

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