A sea turtle nest that recently hatched is the largest on Pawleys Island in 16 years.
Wildlife officials and volunteers say it contained 171 eggs and is one of the largest found on the upper South Carolina coast, since one with 194 eggs hatched five years ago.
Phil Snyder and his wife Mary are among the volunteers on Pawley’s Island, who keep up with the various turtle nests everyday and send important data to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Mary Snyder says there are 50 volunteers on Pawley’s Island. “These volunteers are always year-round residents because they have to be available May through October. We also have another 20 plus volunteers who we coordinate and train at Litchfield Beach,” she says.
Coastal Carolina University Professor Emeritus Phil Snyder, who taught environmental ethics, says volunteers keep up with the progress of a nest and as the eggs hatch, they dig down two feet to count the eggs. Snyder says 400 spectators showed up to watch as the 171-egg nest was dug up. Those present then had the opportunity to cheer on the handful of baby turtles left in the nest that race toward the ocean. Snyder talks about the importance of the work done by the turtle volunteers.
There are seven species of sea turtles and the ones that frequent here are all endangered species, or at least threatened. So we want to get as many turtles back in the ocean as possible. And prior to these projects, many nests would have been washed away. So we’re saving a lot of nests that would have been lost.
Nests usually contain an average of around 120 eggs but may only have several dozen. The nesting begins in May and turtles may lay several “hutches” of eggs in a season. Sea turtle eggs incubate for about two months before they hatch and head for the ocean, in a run for their lives to escape predators. Then they swim toward the Gulf Stream. Between age 20 and 30, females return to the beach to lay eggs. A female sea turtle can mate with several males before she lays her eggs.
The Snyders are affiliated with a group called South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (or “SCUTE”), a large volunteer group.