July 2024 Sea Turtle Nesting Season Update

Two months ago we reported on the 2024 beach renourishment and speculated on the impact it would have on our sea turtle season. Now, with two months of experience, we can provide an update and report on what we have learned so far.

Gator is east of the pier and operating in the 3-4 E. Arctic blocks. Marinex has come ashore with their pipe near 9 E. Arctic and is operating in the 10-11 E. Arctic blocks. Two turtle night monitors patrol each night, one at the Gator site and one at the Marinex site. There have been 11 reports of turtles observed at night, 5 nested and 6 aborted the nesting attempt. Of the 5 that nested, three of the egg chambers were shallow, within 6 inches of the surface. We think that an observed turtle will complete dropping eggs but will then make a hasty return to the ocean without the normal care of covering the nest. From now on when we investigate a nest laid by an observed turtle, we will take extra care assuming the eggs are very near the surface. Only one turtle has been spotted on the landward side of the pipe. After crawling over a section of pipe with a lot of accreted sand, she fortunately found her own way across the sand bridge and to the ocean.

The major lesson learned so far is that we are seeing fewer than normal nests and that the number of false crawls compared to nests is much higher. One of the measures that SCDNR uses is Beach Success, defined as the percentage of total crawls that result in a nest. The beach success for Folly Beach is usually well above 50%. As of 6/23/24 Folly has 25 nests and 41 false crawls for a beach success of 38% (25/66), or a false crawl rate of 62%. This is the lowest beach success ever recorded for Folly Beach. The only other year the beach success was less than 50% was in 2014, another renourishment year.

It is to be expected that the noise, light, and activity associated with a renourishment would result in fewer nests and more false crawls. Our volunteers have located numerous false crawls near the pipe or near the booster pump at 10 W. Ashley. Our night monitors have observed turtles abort nesting after bumping into the pipe, after encountering an escarpment, or after coming ashore near the booster pump. One of the more notable effects of the renourishment is the escarpments, the steep cliffs near the edge of the water. Not only is the escarpment a barrier to turtles attempting to nest, but it impedes beachgoers from reaching the water. Gator and Marinex, the two dredge contractors, level the escarpments in the morning after the FBTW team gives the All Clear, usually by 7 am. The goal is to complete the leveling before the crowds arrive. The timing of the high tides complicates the leveling by either preventing access of the construction vehicles in the high tide zone or by creating a new scarp shortly after the leveling.

As I write this, the non-stop rumble of the booster pump echoes in the background. I need to remember that this short-term inconvenience is more than offset by the long-term benefits of a renourishment. The years following a renourishment have higher than normal turtle activity. Scan the QR code and follow our 2024 Folly Beach sea turtle season.