Cape Island Turtle Project
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|Loggerhead sea turtle nesting on beach. Credit: Michelle Pate©|
Cape Island is the northern most barrier island in the refuge and is situated between the Santee Delta and Bulls Bay along the north central South Carolina coast. The island, accessible by boat from McClellanville, S.C., is five miles long; it was divided into two sections when Hurricane Bertha skirted the coast in 1996.
Cape Island is home to the largest nesting population of turtles within the northern subpopulation of the southeastern Loggerhead sea turtle. The northern subpopulation, or nesting aggregation, consists of those Loggerheads which nest from North Carolina to around Cape Canaveral, Florida. These turtles are isolated from all other nesting turtles in the southeast based on genetic studies involving mitochondrial DNA. With an average of 1000 nests per year, Cape Island is the most significant Loggerhead nesting beach north of Cape Canaveral.
The Nest Recovery Project
Loggerhead sea turtle nest monitoring and management activities began in 1980.
Presently, management activities each nesting season include:
- constructing predator proof hatcheries
- locating nests and false crawls
- transplanting nests into hatcheries
- caging nests
- recording daily minimum and maximum temperatures and daily rainfall
- inventory of nests
- participation in the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network
|Loggerhead turtle crawl. Credit: Michelle Pate|
Although nesting on Cape Island begins in early May, the work on the project begins earlier in the year. Refuge staff put together hatcheries for the relocation of certain nests which are in danger of erosion and/or washover, and build cages for in situ nests (those which are left in place). As assessment of shoreline erosion is a necessity in an effort to estimate hatchery placement. An evaluation of the predator population is also important since predators may have a substantial impact on freshly laid nests as well as emerging hatchlings.
Once nesting begins, the crew (usually a team of five) goes into a rigorous schedule of nest and false crawl location, nest relocation, caging, and monitoring. This demanding work program endures long hot days in the Carolina sun, afternoon thunderstorms, biting flies, mosquitos, and an occasional encounter with a black widow spider. The crew at Cape will monitor nesting and evaluate characteristics of nests all summer long. This includes bi-monthly surveys of in situ nests, paying close attention to flooding, erosion and washover, disturbance of any kind, and hatching productivity.
Early research on Loggerhead sea turtles began on Cape Island in the late 1930's by Junior Refuge Manager William Baldwin. Baldwin, along with Wildlife Technician John M. Lofton, conducted surveys of the nesting loggerheads at what was then known as the Cape Romain Migratory Bird Refuge. Their research included data on loggerheads such as biology, migration, and status of the population. The information contained in their manuscript, dated 1940, was some of the first ever data published concerning sea turtles. The document is still regarded as very valuable information.
|Loggerhead "Cape Romain" returns to sea. Credit: Barb Bergwerf©|
|Track of Loggerhead Cape Romain. Credit: SC Aquarium|
Nest Numbers for Cape Romain!
Follow the number of Loggerhead sea turtle nests at Cape Romain. Go to SEATURTLE.ORG and follow the link from "Sea Turtle Nesting" to South Carolina's Program. You will find nests for Cape, Lighthouse and Bulls Island. And, you can "Adopt-A-Nest" in support of our nest relocation project!
South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program
To help ensure that sea turtles have a future in our oceans, the South Carolina Aquarium uses its facilities to aid sick and injured sea turtles through its Sea Turtle Rescue Program. When an unhealthy sea turtle is found along the coast, it is brought to the Sea Turtle Hospital by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources where staff and volunteers monitor, provide treatments and rehabilitative care. When deemed healthy enough to survive on its own, the turtle is returned to the ocean where it can rejoin the sea turtle population. The Sea Turtle Rescue Program supports the Aquarium's conservation mission not only through sea turtle rehabilitation but, offers award-winning programs and exhibitry, Hospital behind-the-scene tours, and outreach programs to promote sea turtle conservation, protection and education. To learn more, visit the South Carolina Aquarium.
In 2008, private donations from the Dewees Island Property Owners Association supported three interns to assist refuge staff with the nest recovery program. With the help of the interns, refuge staff were able to continue complete survey and nest protection to Cape, Lighthouse and Bulls Islands. At season's end, 1,428 Loggerhead sea turtle nests were protected. In addition to the recovery program, the Dewees interns assisted staff with seabird nesting surveys on the Refuge.
Other Local Agencies Involved in Loggerhead Sea Turtle Recovery