From The Blog

Symposium Highlights 40 Years of Protecting Loggerhead Turtles on Kiawah

If you want to put together a spectacular show on Kiawah Island, the formula is easy. Just surround yourself with talented people who know and love the Island, then sit back and enjoy the show. The result is definitely going to be amazing. This was all true of the symposium presented by the Kiawah Conservancy/KICA Our World program about loggerhead turtles on Nov. 11 at the Sandcastle.

Maggie Schein, an assistant to author Pat Conroy, opened the program by reading a lyrical description of loggerheads that she had written for the occasion. Behind her, on twin screens, a beautiful drawing of two loggerheads created for the event by her artist husband, Jonathan Hannah, was displayed.

The audience was treated to two video presentations. Five undergraduate students from the University of South Carolina created the first film in 1973. Well before the island had seen any meaningful development, they won a grant from the National Science Foundation and borrowed equipment from Porter Gaud. They patrolled the beach day and night, monitoring loggerhead nesting. They even built a hatchery on the beach where they gathered newly laid eggs and monitored them until hatchlings exited to the ocean. When filming was completed in 1974, they took the rolls of film to a Charleston television station for editing and left it in a hallway on a Sunday night so they could begin editing the following morning. Unfortunately the film was picked up during the Sunday night cleaning process and taken to a nearby landfill. Luckily they found it the next day beneath two feet of dirt after many frantic hours of searching.

The spokesperson in the 1973 video, Rhett Talbert, discussed the experience he and the four other graduate students had making the video. Gene Furchgott, the producer who did the filming, was also on hand to regale the audience with stories about their adventures during production. Their academic advisor from the University of South Carolina, Professor John Mark Dean, completed the presentation by sharing the experiences he had with the students and reflecting on the research that has followed in the years since they walked the Kiawah beach. Their study paved the way for future biologists and turtle experts. It was unprecedented and foreshadowed the work done today by the almost 200 members of the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol under the leadership of KICA member Joe Pezzullo.

The second half of the program featured a summary of 20 years of turtle patrols on Kiawah sponsored by the Town of Kiawah Island. Town Biologist Jim Jordan summarized the activity that has taken place over the past two decades. Kevin Mills, chairman and president of the South Carolina Aquarium, followed with a presentation about the efforts that institution has made to rescue sea turtles and a description of the state-of-the-art turtle hospital already underway there.

Mary Alice Monroe, award-winning author from Isle of Palms, presented “Confessions of a Turtle Lady,” detailing how she became interested in loggerheads and made it her mission to write about them in one of her famous novels. She read a favorite passage from The Beach House, describing the charismatic appeal of the loggerhead sea turtle.

The highlight of the evening was a stunning video filmed during the 2015 turtle season on Kiawah by Cindy Neal, Emmy winning director/producer. Cindy, who is well known to association members for her earlier work on Kiawah, talked about her experience recording events over the course of the entire nesting season and the special privilege of filming a nesting turtle who had the good grace to crawl ashore at about 2 a.m. while members of the turtle patrol and Charlotte Hope, advisor from the South Carolina Depart of Natural Resource, watched in awe. Cindy and her crew filmed from the minute she approached to the end when she crawled slowly back to the Atlantic.

Jack Kotz presided as master of ceremonies and Shauneen Hutchinson concluded the evening by assuring the capacity crowd (the event was fully subscribed a month in advance) that the Kiawah Conservancy hopes to present another in the symposium series, this one featuring alligators, in 2016.

Once available, the 2015 turtle season documentary video will be posted to the Kiawah Conservancy website ( for viewing.

Article contributed by Digest Member Volunteer Shauneen Hutchinson.