Folly’s Turtles

Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) crawl onto the beach at Folly between May and September to lay eggs. Females nest between 2 and 5 times in one season and do not return for two to three years to repeat the nesting cycle. It is believed that they nest on the beach where they were hatched decades earlier. Therefore, the sustainability of nesting at Folly is dependent upon proper management of these nesting sites.

Because Folly Beach is prone to severe erosion and the dune system is unstable, the nesting sites are precarious and require daily monitoring. Mother turtles come ashore at night to lay approximately 100 eggs. The eggs incubate for 45 to 60 days. Hatchlings emerge, usually at night when sand temperatures cool and the chance of predation is lessened. Before their protein-packed burst of energy is depleated, they must swim to the shelter of Gulf Stream sargassam floats thirty miles away.

In recent years, loggerhead sea turtles nesting at Folly Beach have produced

  • 3200 hatchlings from 38 nests (1998)
  • 4084 hatchlings from 45 nests (1999)
  • 3094 hatchlings from 41 nests (2000)

 Even with the best of nest conservation efforts, it is estimated that only about 1 of 1000 hatchlings will live to adult reproductive age.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Folly Turtles

Q: What kind of turtles?
A: Mostly loggerheads (Caretta caretta); “northern sub-species” that nests in Georgia, SC, NC; genetically distinct from “southern” (Florida) species; population #s much smaller than southern. In 2003, Folly had one leatherback nest that produced 67 leatherback hatchlings. It was only the 3d leatherback nest ever recorded in SC.

Q: When do they nest?
A: About mid-May (sometimes earlier) until about mid-August (sometimes later)

Q: How big are they?
A: About 3’ long and almost as wide; 250-300 pounds

Q: How do they make the nest?
A: They dig with their back flippers

Q: How long does it take?
A: About 30-45 minutes just to dig; another 30-45 minutes to emerge from ocean, find suitable nest site, and return to ocean.

Q: How deep are the eggs?
A: Bottom of the nest is typically about 18” — as deep as the turtle’s back flipper can reach — but topmost eggs can be only 8-10” from surface.

Q: How many eggs per nest?
A: Multi-year average for northern sub-species is 126.

Q: How long until hatching?
A: 45 - 65 days; Folly’s average last year = 56 days

Q: The mother doesn’t come back?!
A: That’s right.

Q: Why are you moving the eggs?
A: To protect them from water (tide inundation/ erosion)

Q: What can harm the eggs?
A: Too much heat, too much water, bacteria & nest diggers (roots, ants, sand crabs, racoons, dogs, people)

Q: What can harm the hatchlings?
A: Too much heat, too much water before leaving the nest, artificial lighting, ants, ghost crabs, dogs, birds, fish, people

Q: What can harm the adult turtles?
A: Sharks, boats/ships, fishing nets & lines, trash & pollutants, diseases, obstructions on beach, people

Q: Does the use of TEDs reduce turtle deaths?
A: YES!

Q: When can I see a turtle nesting or a nest hatching?
A: Very rarely. Both usually take place at night and according to turtle time. To feel safe, the nesting turtles need a NATURAL habitat (dark, quiet, motionless). To have the best chance, the hatchlings need NATURAL lighting & no obstructions between the nest and the ocean.

Q: How can I find out more?
A: For more information about turtle nesting on Folly, e-mail your questions to follyturtles@gmail.com. For more information about loggerheads and other sea turtles, visit Links.