Cape Romain gears up for sea turtle nesting season

  • Saturday, July 12, 2014

Loggerhead hatchling at Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge Center PHOTOS PROVIDED


Located at Front Beach on Isle of Palms, a bronze sculpture of three turtles welcomes beachgoers. Such statue brings to mind South Carlina's own loggerhead sea turtles and the efforts being made to ensure they stick around.

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is gearing up for another loggerhead nesting season. The project was founded in 1980, shortly after the loggerhead species was declared “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1978.

Efforts last throughout the loggerheads' nesting season, beginning May 1 until Sept. 30. Refuge workers and volunteers make daily trips to Cape, Bulls and Lighthouse Islands to monitor the turtles' nests, ensuring a safe hatching process for the eggs.

Two-feet-tall cages known as hatcheries are built to fend off prowling coyotoes, raccoons and other predators.

According to Dan Ashworth, a biologist at Cape Romain, about 75 percent of islands' nests are relocated to better ground. Nests in danger of erosion or being washed away by high tides are also moved to safer environments.

Cape Romain hosts more than 1,000 loggerhead nests yearly, recording up to 1,900 nests every year since 2009, according to Ashworth.

With such large numbers, the loss of the species would be detrimental to the local ecosystem.

Turtle Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to “saving the world's turtle and tortoise population,” assists communities similar to Cape Romain in informing the public about the importance of sea turtle safety.

Turtle Conservancy founder Eric Goode said the loss would have a ripple-effect.

“If we lose them (turtles), it reduces the health of the ecosystem,” said Goode.

He explained how oxygen-producing plankton rely on turtles, and without the turtles, fish that feed on plankton would suffer.

Various methods can be taken to enjoy local beaches and waterways while keeping the loggerheads' safety a priority.

Ashworth advises shrimpers to use the Turtle Exclusion Device when at sea. The device allows fishermen to keep small catches, such as shrimp, fish and crabs, but provides an escape opening in the neck of the trawl for sea turtles.

Using low lighting while night fishing and on beachfront properties is also beneficial for sea turtles who often confuse beach lighting with moonlight and crawl inland with fatal results.

Ashworth said sea turtles have “spawned wonder and amazement” for South Carolina residents and “It'd be a shame for them to disappear.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities at Cape Romain Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/caperomain/volunteers.

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