By the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for Island Eye News
Three people from the Lowcountry face fines and restitution in the form of community service with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) sea turtle program after being filmed digging up a loggerhead nest on Folly Beach last summer. The incident occurred during the height of the sea turtle nesting season in South Carolina in July. In early September, Charleston County SCDNR officers received a copy of a ‘Snapchat’ video that appeared to show two young men digging a sea turtle nest marked with the highly visible orange tape and signage used by members of Marine Turtle Conservation of the SCDNR. program staff and volunteers. Marine biologists from SCDNR’s Marine Resources Division oversee a well-established network of volunteer groups along the coast, whose members spend countless hours each summer during the nesting season walking the beach to identify and protect vulnerable nests. Video sent to SCDNR law enforcement showed a nesting site marked with an orange SCDNR sign and two individuals digging up – and later attempting to replace – eggs from the nest. An egg was crushed to the ground during the video, which was filmed by a third individual. SCDNR officer Freddie Earhart investigated the source of the video. During his investigation, Constable Earhart was able to identify and locate the three people involved. On September 5, Constable Earhart and SCDNR Constable Courtney AngottiSmith contacted the three people, all of whom were under the age of 21 and were on vacation with their families at the time of the incident. A meeting was arranged with the three suspects and their parents, during which the young men made voluntary statements confirming their involvement and that they knew such actions were against the law. The suspects admitted that some of the eggs were damaged and that they attempted to re-bury the eggs, which ultimately resulted in further damage. SCDNR’s marine turtle conservation program coordinator Michelle Pate, using data collected by the Folly Beach Turtle Watch team, was able to confirm that out of ninety eggs remaining in the nest, sixty and eleven did not hatch. While they could have been charged for each disturbed egg, based on the cooperation of the suspects, five summons for illegal collection of loggerhead turtle eggs were issued to the three suspects (two each for the individuals who dug up the eggs. and one for the individual who filmed them). These charges can result in jail time or fines of up to $ 2,000, as well as restitution. In addition, the SCDNR will recommend that all those charged be required to devote community service time to working with the SCDNR’s marine turtle conservation program so that they can learn first-hand how much work is spent on protecting wildlife. sea turtles in South Carolina. The SCDNR marine turtle program began in 1977 with research into beach management and post-nesting loggerhead monitoring in water. The program grew further in the early 1980s with the formation of volunteer networks for nest protection and stranding along the coast of South Carolina. Today, the program provides training and support to more than 1,300 volunteers across the coast who protect nests and document beaching sea turtles.
“Educating residents and visitors on how they can make a positive impact for sea turtles on our beaches is a never-ending effort,” said Pate. “The volunteers involved in conservation work in South Carolina have dedicated countless hours to this task. Our volunteers engage with the coastal community daily during the season to share their enthusiasm for the natural world and our impact in sharing the beach with the wildlife that need these beaches to survive.
Education provides a pathway to inform and foster stewardship, and combined with fieldwork, ensures the continued protection and successful recovery of sea turtle populations. These decades of research and hard work supported by Turtle Network volunteers in coastal South Carolina communities have paid off. In recent years, the number of turtle nests has rebounded, although much remains to be done. It has been a successful nesting year for South Carolina’s sea turtle population, with 5,649 nests laid in 2021. Because nesting is expensive for large reptiles, female sea turtles do not come ashore to lay eggs every year. . This pattern causes nesting fluctuations from year to year – 2019 broke all records with 8,795 nests, but 2018 saw only 2,767 nests. Overall, the number of sea turtle nests in the southeast has increased over the past decade, making biologists in the region optimistic that these endangered reptiles are starting to recover after several decades of conservation efforts. “I applaud the work of our officers in conducting this investigation thoroughly and expeditiously,” said Col. Chisolm Frampton, deputy director of the law enforcement division of the SCDNR. “I hope that giving these people a chance to redeem themselves by working with the dedicated staff and volunteers who work with our turtle protection program as part of the community service component of their punishment will make a lasting impression on them. the importance of this work. and why all of us, as Southern Carolinians, need to support him. ”
To learn more about SCDNR’s marine turtle conservation program, visit dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/program.htm.