State wildlife officials say up to 15 percent of South Carolina’s sea turtle nests were lost to Tropical Storm Irma’s storm surge last week.
The Department of Natural Resources said that was not as bad as the 34 percent loss originally feared in the days after Irma’s impact across the Lowcountry. However, there were still extensive losses among the loggerhead and green sea turtle nests on Hilton Head and Kiawah islands.
“It looks like we have narrowed it down to roughly 10-15 percent of our nests might hae been affected by the storm surge that came up,” DNR sea turtle program coordinator Michelle Pate told South Carolina Radio Network. “That’s a more positive outlook than what we’d thought initially.”
But as bad as the losses were on the state’s South Coast, Pate said South Carolina’s northern shoreline from Myrtle Beach down to Cape Romain was able to get through the storm relatively intact. Only about 140 nests out of nearly 1,900 were lost on the rich nesting grounds at Cape Romain National Wildlife Preserve, she said. Much of that was because a majority of eggs had already hatched.
But it was still the deadliest natural loss in some time, Pate said. While Hurricanes Matthew and Joaquin also created storm surges along coastal beaches the past two years, those storms occurred in October after the nesting season had motly ended.
“It’s definitely been worse than what we’ve had the past three years,” she said.
Storm surges can drown some eggs, which require air for the infant hatchlings to breathe. Others were destroyed by severe erosion which wiped out sand dunes at Edisto and Beaufort County beaches.
Federal wildlife official remind the public not to disturb sea turtle nests — which are protected under endangered species law — should they find eggs exposed on the shoreline. DNR partners with several private watch groups which monitor turtle nests and properly restore or move endangered eggs. Anyone who comes