Apr 18 2011

Folly’s Turtles

Every summer thousands of families make their way to Folly Beach for fun-filled days on the beach. But when the lights go down and the waves crash on the empty beach, the Loggerhead turtles make their way out of the depths of the ocean to lay their eggs in the sand.

Every once in awhile, a lucky vacationer will get to see a female Loggerhead make her way out of the ocean and begin the nesting process. The sight of one of these turtles alone is remarkable as they are approximately three feet long and can weigh up to 300 lbs. Another amazing characteristic possessed by the Loggerheads is that it is widely believed to be true that they return to where they were hatched to deliver their own eggs.

Once on the beach and away from the surf (which takes 45 minutes) turtles begin to lay their eggs, which takes another 45 minutes. The turtles use their back flippers to dig their 18-inch nests. This process requires tons of energy, so it’s advised that vacationers and residents leave nothing behind after a day at the beach. This includes filling in any holes that were dug, smoothing over sand castles, and leaving the beach as natural as possible to make the turtles’ nesting process easier.

It takes anywhere from 45-65 days for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched, the hatchlings are on their own as their mothers do not come back to the nests to guide their young into the water. The hatchlings follow the moonlight to make their way into the water, which is why it is important for vacationers and residents to keep external lights off at night. Hatchlings can become confused by artificial light and find themselves in the street, tangled in the brush, or under beach houses.

From May to October, residents and vacationers are required to keep their external house lights off so that nesting turtles will lay their eggs. When artificial light is present, the turtles will often times avoid nesting and will release their eggs back into the water.

While walking on the beach at night is by no means prohibited on Folly Beach, it is recommended that red-light flashlights are used as opposed to standard flashlights. However, shining any kind of light on the turtles or using flash photography is prohibited.

Should vacationers come upon a mother turtle on the beach during any stage of the nesting process, the turtle should not be disturbed. The same goes for nests; these are protected by volunteers with Folly Turtles who make sure that nests are identified and observed so that the future hatchlings have a chance to make their way back into the water.

The best thing to do for the turtles aside from turning off external lights and keeping the beach clean is to contact Folly Beach Public Safety at (843) 588-2433 to report tracks or turtles.

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Bob Hart Author

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