Lowcountry surveyors worried about human impact on sea turtle nests

BOTANY BAY, S.C. — It’s sea turtle hatchling season in the Lowcountry, which means several teams are out on the beaches surveying turtle nests.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is part of the team that surveys and wildlife technician Emma Jones told WCIV that the department is constantly facing new challenges.

“I think the biggest challenge for me is the effects of humans that we have had on sea turtle hatchlings,” Jones said.

Jones said the changing tides on an eroding beach can affect surveys, as does light pollution coming from beach houses. The light from the houses confuse the hatchlings and makes it harder for them to find the direction to the water.

Taylor Lawrence also surveys sea turtle nests and she said working at Botany is different from other beaches she has surveyed.

“Most sea turtle programs that I’ve worked prior, you’re able to come first thing in the morning and do your survey, but as you can see at Botany, the beach is eroded a lot so we can only come three hours before and after low tide every day, so obviously that changes,” Lawrence said.

The main worry for surveyors and volunteers is what could happen in the coming years.

“You can see those changes with the erosion so I start thinking about what’s nesting season going to look like next year, what’s it going to look like in five years, 10 years, are they going to be able to nest here anymore?” said volunteer Kate Brundrett.

Wildlife biologist Jeffrey Schwenter told WCIV that it’s hard to know what the Lowcountry beaches will look like in 10 years, but he says the sea turtles aren’t going anywhere.

“Sea turtles are also resilient, but it’s ingrained in them. They like to come back to the same spots. So, the sea turtles will be here. It’s hard to say what the habitat will look like,” said Schwenter.

Surveyors reminded the public that it is illegal to pick up sea turtle hatchlings when they come out of their nests, and you can be fined for doing so.

If you see a sea turtle hatching, observe from a safe distance.

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