Something About Turtles


If you walk a South Carolina State Park beach this time of year, you are almost sure to pass a site similar to the picture on the right. You pass by the obvious- the shells and sandcastles, even the beach umbrellas and brightly colored chairs have a charm that adds to the magic of “the beach.” Then your eyes take you further inland, where sand dunes and sea oats provide a frame for the painting that is the coast of Carolina.  Just before nature’s frame you’ll notice something that seems out of place- drift fencing and a prominent sign giving more explanation to what it is that has captured your attention. It’s a “nest” of a Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta). 

The loggerhead, named for its exceptionally large head, has left something behind; a nest of around 100 eggs. If the nest can overcome the challenges of beach erosion, raccoons, crabs and other critters, it will soon “boil.” “Boiling” is when the sea turtles come to the surface in mass, breaking through the sand and making their way to the ocean.  It is one of nature’s greatest wonders, not only the boil but the whole process. It is believed that a female loggerhead may travel thousands of miles to return to the beach where she hatched to lay her own eggs as an adult. There is also the laying of the eggs and their hatching- an experience rivaled by only a few of nature’s most amazing wonders. As much as this is a miracle of nature, the turtles can’t do it alone anymore. They require a little help from their friends and ours!  Volunteers at all of our coastal parks assist in the sea turtle program and are making a difference.

I recently went on “turtle patrol” with the Friends of Hunting Island. It is definitely fun, but there is plenty of work and dedication involved as well.  Each morning the friends gather at the park and walk the beach to check on existing nests and document all the activities of the night before.  They keep precise data, from GPS coordinates to the number of days that a nest has been on the beach, which enables them to forecast when the turtles will hatch. On this particular trip, I participated in a special overnight program, patrolling the beach to ensure lights were out and watching for turtles to come ashore.

 The next morning at 6 a.m. we started the morning patrol to check on existing nests and look further for any new activities that may have occurred since the last turtle patrol. As I made it to the “clubhouse,” I realized the volunteers must have had more sleep (or coffee) than I did! They addressed the morning with excitement and gathered their clipboards and probers and set out for a new day. Off we went on “turtle patrol” making a difference on the coast of Carolina, a routine that is done on all our coastal parks by volunteers and staff who are passionate about one of the things that makes our state so special. 

The next day I was telling friends of my weekend adventures and someone had to ask: “Well did you see a turtle?”  With excitement I answered: “Not this trip!” He looked at me rather funny and muttered something about it being a wasted trip. “Not a chance,” I explained, “I spent the weekend with ‘friends,’ walked Hunting Island’s beach at midnight, saw the Milky Way with the naked eye, saw the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, documented a ‘false crawl’ made by a female Loggerhead and made memories I’ll always cherish. It was a great weekend!”  

To all the friends and volunteers who are on Turtle Patrol, the turtles and I thank you. If you want to be a part of this great volunteer program let us know, but in the meantime….

I’ll see you in the parks!


Phil