By the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources for Island Connection
Three people in the Lowcountry face fines and community service awards with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Sea Turtle Program after filming themselves digging up a sea turtle nest. loggerheads at Folly Beach last summer. The incident happened during the height of 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 up a sea turtle nest marked with the highly visible orange tape and signage used by members of the SCDNR Marine Turtle Conservation. program staff and volunteers. Marine biologists from the SCDNR’s Marine Resources Division oversee a well-established network of volunteer groups along the coast whose members spend countless hours each summer during nesting season walking the beach to identify and protect vulnerable nests. Video sent to SCDNR law enforcement showed a nest site marked with an orange SCDNR sign and two individuals digging up – and then attempting to replace – eggs from the nest. An egg was crushed on the ground during the video, which was filmed by a third individual. SCDNR officer Freddie Earhart led the investigation into the source of the video. During his investigation, Constable Earhart was able to identify and locate the three individuals involved. On September 5, Constable Earhart and SCDNR Constable Courtney AngottiSmith made contact with the three people, who were all under 21 and were vacationing 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 gave voluntary statements confirming their involvement and that they knew such actions were against the law. The suspects admitted that some of the eggs had been damaged and they had attempted to rebury the eggs which ultimately resulted in further damage. SCDNR Sea Turtle Conservation Program Coordinator Michelle Pate was able to confirm, using data collected by the Folly Beach Turtle Watch team, that of the ninety eggs remaining in the nest, seventy-one did not hatch. While they could have been charged for each disturbed egg, based on the cooperation of the suspects, five summonses for illegal taking 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 indictees be required to commit time to community service to work with the SCDNR’s sea turtle conservation program so that they can learn firsthand the amount of work involved in protecting the sea turtles in South Carolina. The SCDNR sea turtle program began in 1977 with research on beach management and in-water monitoring of post-nesting loggerheads. The program grew in the early 1980s with the formation of volunteer networks for nest protection and grounding along the South Carolina coast. Today, the program provides training and support to more than 1,300 coast-wide volunteers who protect nests and document sea turtles that wash up on shore.
“Educating residents and visitors on how they can make a positive outcome for sea turtles on our beaches is a never-ending endeavor,” Pate said. “Volunteers involved in conservation work in South Carolina have dedicated countless hours to this task. Our volunteers engage daily with the coastal community during the season to share their enthusiasm for the natural world and our impact by sharing the beach with wildlife that needs these beaches to survive.
Education provides a pathway to inform and foster stewardship and, combined with on-the-ground work, 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 communities across South Carolina have paid off. In recent years, the number of turtle nests has rebounded, but there is still a long way to go. It was a successful nesting year for South Carolina’s sea turtle population, with 5,649 nests laid in 2021. Because nesting takes a heavy toll on the energy of large reptiles, female sea turtles don’t come to lay eggs every year. . This pattern causes nesting fluctuations from year to year – 2019 broke all records with 8,795 nests, but 2018 only saw 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 beginning to recover after several decades of dying. conservation efforts. “I applaud the work of our officers who conducted this investigation thoroughly and expeditiously,” said Colonel Chisolm Frampton, Deputy Director of the SCDNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “Hopefully giving these people a chance to make amends 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. importance of this work. and why all of us as South Carolina should support it.
To learn more about the SCDNR’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program, visit dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/program.htm.