The Return Of The Sea Turtles

Sunglasses ✅ Turtle egg vial ✅ Nest probe ✅ SCDNR permit ✅ No-see-um spray ✅ Litter collection bag ✅. It’s 6 am. The sun is rising.

folly beach sea turtle

Ghost crabs scurry about sensing the approaching daylight. And the Folly Beach Turtle Watch (FBTW) volunteers are ready to begin their daily patrol of Folly Beach’s 7.4 miles of beach. A new item to add to the checklist this season will likely be coyote nest screens for vulnerable nests. Last season we had 9 nests predated by coyotes, a first for Folly but all too common at most SC sea turtle nesting locations.

May 1st marks the beginning of the nesting season for the magnificent loggerhead sea turtle. Sea turtles evolved alongside dinosaurs over 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. Loggerhead sea turtles first arrived about 50 million years ago, or about 48 million years before the earliest humans. As they have done for millennia, the loggerheads visit our shores each year when the water warms. Dragging her massive body, upwards of 300 pounds, the nesting loggerhead lumbers ashore to deposit her clutch of 100 or more eggs on the beach. Two months later small hatchlings, a mere two inches long will emerge.

The 2024 sea turtle season officially begins May 1st and will continue until all of the nests have hatched. Although sea turtles USUALLY don’t nest on Folly until May, we have had early nesters in April. Because the beach renourishment begins in April, FBTW volunteers will be out monitoring the entire beach each morning beginning in mid-April just in case we have another early nester.

FBTW began patrolling Folly Beach in 1993. That first year there was only one volunteer. Today there are 55 volunteers. Every volunteer is extensively trained to perform specific sea turtle nest protection activities such as: identifying and marking nests, locating clutches, collecting one egg shell for genetic research study, relocating at-risk nests, screening nests, and inventorying hatched nests. Each volunteer must be permitted by SCDNR.

During the 31 years of patrolling Folly Beach, FBTW volunteers have located and managed 1,805 nests. All of the nests were loggerhead nests except for three leatherback nests and most recently, one green turtle nest found last season.

Before the sea turtles were forced to share the beaches with humans, they fared very well – even flourished. But today with coastal development of their nesting beaches, encounters with boats and fishing gear, and consumption of plastics and other marine debris, all seven species of sea turtles face an uncertain future and are listed as threatened or endangered. All sea turtles are protected by Federal and Local laws.

Folly Beach has specific ordinances to protect sea turtles. Without a doubt the greatest hazard to sea turtle hatchlings on Folly Beach is artificial lighting. We know this because too often when our volunteers come upon a recently hatched nest, they see hatchling tracks headed landward into the dunes, attracted by artificial beachfront lighting, rather than headed to the ocean. Upon investigation some dead hatchlings are inevitably discovered. Although the fate of most of the hatchlings is never known, their fate was assuredly gruesome – death by ghost crab, fire ants, birds, dehydration, or automobile.

What Can We Do To Help Our Turtles?
The best way to support our sea turtles is to ensure that all beachfront homes comply with local ordinances that require lights out from dusk to dawn during turtle season (May-October). The City of Folly Beach Code of Ordinances Chapter 151.48 states that:

  • Lights illuminating buildings or associated grounds for decorative, security, or recreational purposes shall be shielded or screened such that they are not visible from the beach and will be turned off after 10:00 p.m. until dawn during the period of May 1 to October 31 of each year.
  • Window treatments in windows facing the ocean at the first floor of single-story or multi-story structures are required so that interior lights do not illuminate the beach. The use of blackout draperies or shade screens are preferred. The addition of tint or film to windows or awnings is also encouraged, as is turning off unnecessary lights if the lights illuminate the beach.

Sea turtles were here nearly 50 million years before us, are doing their best to coexist with us, and are delighting us when we cross paths. The least we can do is make sure our beach front lights are turned off at night during turtle time. For any turtle lighting questions please email: permits@follybeach.gov.

Have You Noticed The Amber Streetlights? In past years FBTW submitted to the City of Folly Beach a list of beachfront streetlights that illuminated the beach and were most likely to adversely impact a sea turtle nest. It was requested that the streetlights be turned off by early July when the first turtle nests began hatching. However, in 2023 due to an increase in traffic and pedestrian safety concerns, the city understandably opted not to ask Dominion to turn off any of the streetlights. As a result, all street lights remained illuminated during the 2023 turtle season.

The City of Folly Beach is a committed supporter of sea turtle conservation. Consequently, the City Council came up with a win-win solution and approved the funding to have Dominion Energy replace the fixtures of 38 streetlights with turtle friendly fixtures in time for the 2024 sea turtle season. These are high quality lights that emit turtle friendly wavelengths of amber light from 585-595 nm. Thank you, City Council and thank you, Dominion Energy. For street/utility/lighting issues, please email: pworks@follybeach.gov.