July 23, 2008

Rising for Reptiles: Loggerhead Help Comes in Early Hours

By Kelly Marshall Fuller, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Jul. 23--Adults and children hit the beach at 6 a.m. Fridays at Myrtle Beach State Park to search for signs of loggerhead turtles and their nests -- and to clean the beach and find other ways to assist the survival of the threatened species.

Meanwhile, turtle volunteers in Litchfield Beach are placing bright orange tags on items left on the sand by beachgoers -- such as chairs and tents -- that could endanger female loggerhead turtles.

Both efforts aim to educate the public about the turtles during the current egg-laying season and to encourage visitors to do their part to help, according to park naturalists and volunteers with the S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts.

"We were begging for something that we could use on Litchfield beaches," said Turtle Enthusiasts volunteer Nancy Van Buren.

"I try to leave a nice note. The note might say, 'Please help us. Can you remove your tent wires at night.'"

Turtle education efforts appear to be working, according to Pawleys Island town officials and turtle volunteers.

Myrtle Beach State Park has at least 15 loggerhead turtle nests, assistant naturalist Amanda Leister said.

Eighteen nests have been spotted this year on Pawleys Island, Mayor Bill Otis said.

Nest numbers also are up at Huntington Beach State Park, DeBordieu Beach and Litchfield Beach, according to turtle volunteers

Statewide, at least 1,818 loggerhead nests have been reported this year, Leister said. Last year, about 1,500 nests were reported all year.

"Education is the key," Leister said. "I think if people know the right thing to do, they will do it."

Turtle protection efforts in Litchfield Beach and Pawleys Island are not regulated by county ordinances or local laws, Otis and Van Buren said.

Red tags do not allow Turtle Enthusiasts volunteers or town officials to confiscate beach items or assess fines.

Chairs and tents are tagged several times before the owners receive a visit from the rental agency or the Pawleys Island town police, Van Buren said.

Female loggerheads lumber onto the beach at night, searching for a place to lay eggs. The turtles could become trapped in holes -- such as those dug by sandcastle builders -- or snared in a tent's guide wires, she said.

Other towns have considered stricter measures to deal with holes in the beach.

Isle of Palms leaders wanted a broad ordinance regulating tents, coolers, surfboards and holes dug in the sand. The law, which did not pass, would have fined violators from $128 to $500.

There are no plans for stricter regulations for stray beach tents or volleyball nets left overnight on Pawleys Island, Otis said.

Rental homes now have refrigerator magnets telling visitors to cut their lights at night and to place chairs and tents on the inland side of the sand dunes, he said.

Beach paraphernalia is removed from the beach on a voluntary basis, Otis said.

"We did consider ordinances, but we thought if we worded the tags correctly, most people would do the right thing," Otis said. "I think it has been 98 percent successful."

Children visiting Myrtle Beach State Park have been enthusiastic about helping the turtles, Leister said.

The children receive a "making a difference" patch if they help look for nests and participate in other environmental programs, she said.

Many volunteer while staying at the park with their parents and grandparents. "My daughter loves it," said Sherry Worley, a vacationer from Bristol, Tenn. "Each vacation, we spend half doing this."

"We think our voluntary program is working well," Otis said. We appreciate the fact that residents and visitors are being sensitive to the turtles. When you get a program that's working, why do more?"Contact KELLY MARSHALL FULLER at 357-9187.


To help To protect turtles:

Remove beach litter, balloons, plastic bags, foam, fishing gear and other non-degradable litter.

Remove beach chairs, tents, volleyball nets overnight from the beach.

Do not shine any lights on or around a nesting turtle. She may abandon her effort to nest. Do not use flash photography. Stay behind the turtle so that she cannot see you.

Do not harass a turtle

Don't touch or prod her to move. Stay out of the way as she crawls back to the water.

Leave nest sites alone

If you see a nest, don't disturb it. leave any identification markers in place.

Sources: Town of Pawleys Island, S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts, www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov


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