Photo and Interview by: Lillian Freeman
I talked with Linda Mataya of the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol about turtles in South Carolina and I found it fascinating…
Can you tell me a little about turtles in the area?
There are seven species of sea turtles, four of which can be found off the SC coast.
Loggerheads are the main turtles nesting in South Carolina.
How are the turtles in the North Myrtle Beach Area affected by tourists and hurricanes?
Tourists have a big impact on the nesting loggerhead sea turtles.
Tourists are excited when they see something unusual, so when a nesting turtle is found, many people will crowd around her, shine bright lights, even touch her. She may abandon the nesting process and go back into the water. If she does nest, her body pit and egg cavity may be destroyed by all the people walking around the area.
Hatchlings are programmed to emerge at night, in the dark. The hatchlings only have a limited amount of energy so must reach their destination quickly. If they see light from flashlights or buildings, they may crawl towards that light instead of toward the water. They may lose sight of the water and use up their limited amount of energy. If people are on the beach and follow the hatchlings, the hatchlings think they are being stalked by predators, so again they may go in the wrong direction and use up their energy.
Hurricanes can spell disaster to a sea turtle nest. The winds and rains do not hurt the eggs or hatchlings, but the extreme high tides and especially a surge can drown any mature eggs or hatchlings still under the sand. Nests tend to emerge July through October. This can be the busiest part of the hurricane season. Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 hit our beach the night hatchlings were coming out of the sand. 86 hatchlings had started to crawl up the egg chamber to the top of the nest, they were about ten inches from the top when the storm surge hit, the water laid over the nest for several minutes, 85 out of 86 hatchlings drown.
How can people visiting help to make the survival rate of turtles higher?
People can help make the survival rate of sea turtles higher by leaving them alone.
Turn off all outside beach front lights and stop walking the beach in the dark with bright flashlights.
If one comes upon a nesting sea turtle or a hatchling…leave it alone.
Do not shine lights on them, do not pick up.
It is ok to watch quietly, from a distance, in the dark and from behind the turtle.
A clean beach is a must for survival: Plastics, especially bags, bottles and straws are extremely harmful to sea turtles.
Is there anything else you want people to know about sea turtles?
I think we should remember that the beach is not ours alone. Other animals, including the sea turtles use our beaches, our oceans and our marshes. We must make an effort to leave our environment clean — free from trash and as natural as possible.
Turtles are a very interesting species found on the South Carolina coast and something that makes our state unique.