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May

26

2020

From The Blog

Sea Turtles Visit Our Special Island

Taking a walk down Kiawah’s beach on a late spring night is one of the best ways to experience the island’s fullness. With a bright moon over the waves, the air soft and salty with a beach breeze, you might connect back to the feelings that brought you to the island originally. This time of year, nights on the island’s beach are even more magical, with something important happening under the cover of darkness. From May to October, Kiawah gets special visitors and guests: sea turtles laying eggs and then hatching, getting their first taste of the ocean from our special place.

Like much of the South Carolina coast, Kiawah has long been a birthplace for endangered sea turtles, including Loggerheads, Leatherbacks, and, occasionally, Greens. Turtles generally begin visiting the island in May, although last year Kiawah’s first nest was recorded in mid-April. The mothers come ashore at night, slowly crawling through the sand to make a nest where she lays 100-150 eggs. Hiding her eggs as well as possible, she then heads back to the ocean, leaving the eggs vulnerable to various dangers, including light disorientation, nest disturbances and predation. That’s when island guardians take over.

The Kiawah Turtle Patrol started in the 1970s and has made its mission to safeguard turtles and nests wherever they find them. Volunteers patrol the beach during the nesting and hatching stages of the turtle life cycle, documenting each nest and ensuring that conditions are favorable for hatchlings. For example, sometimes a nest is too far down the beach and volunteers move it before it gets washed out by the tide. With their help, 70% of the eggs laid on Kiawah’s beach hatch compared with just 10% on beaches without nest protection. Incredibly, 75% of Kiawah hatchlings make it to the ocean, often with a team of volunteers to ensure they are not disturbed and to cheer them on.

Of Kiawah’s abundant wildlife, sea turtles are some of the most beloved. If you’d like to learn more about these amazing animals or find out how to get involved with the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol, visit www.kiawahisland.org/wildlife/loggerhead-sea-turtles/. You can also view the Kiawah Conservancy’s sea turtle issue of Learning with Lee featuring coordinator Lynn Sager at kiawahconservancy.org/.