Rare Leatherback sea turtle nest discovered on Isle of Palms

posted by Erica Lunsford, WCIV - 

On Tuesday morning, while patrolling the beach, members of the Island Turtle Team found a Leatherback sea turtle nest.

This is the first time in recorded history a Leatherback nest was found at the Isle of Palms.

Rather, the beach is prone to Loggerhead Turtles, the most abundant of all the marine turtle species in U.S. waters. Adult male Loggerheads reach about three feet in shell length and weigh about 250 pounds.

The Leatherback turtles can grow to be over 1,000 pounds.

They are unique in that they have a layer of blubber under their black leathery skin which enables them to feed much farther north.

A Leatherback sea turtle can reach 1,000 pounds. (Provided/Barbara Bergwerf)

Only one other Leatherback nest has been recorded this month in South Carolina, the nest is located on Lighthouse Island at the Cape Romaine Wildlife Refuge.

Mary Pringle, the project leader of Island Turtle Team, says the turtle tracks made it obvious that it was the larger Leatherback Turtle and that a nest was near.

"Leatherbacks crawl in circles, they call it 'circle orientation' circles; I don't know if they are finding their compass direction or why they do it," Pringle said.

Tuesday's discovered tracks spanned six feet wide.

Cindy Bergstrom, a member of the Island Turtle Team, was one of the members who first spotted the tracks.

"It was so exciting because we have never had a Leatherback nest on Isle of Palms ever, so when we saw the tracks, we thought, 'Oh that's a turtle, but it did not look like a Loggerhead, it looked different."

Leatherbacks crawl in circles, called 'circle orientation' circles, according to members of the Island Turtle Team. (Provided/Barbara Bergwerf)

Once she spotted the tracks, Bergstrom says the team called the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, which was tasked with relocating the eggs to a safer place to incubate.

"The (eggs) were buried very deep, so we have to very carefully get D.N.R to use a probe to very gently probe the sand and try to find a soft spot," Bergstrom said.

She said the Department of Natural Resources collected a total of 93 eggs from the nest. Leatherback turtles typically lay eggs at 10-day intervals.

Pringle says she knows relocation is best for the soft-shell eggs' survival.

"Where they were laid, they would've been flooded and they would have drowned and not hatched," Pringle said.

 Pringle says the eggs are expected to hatch sometime in August.

     

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