The loggerhead is one of only seven species of marine turtles still in existence today. Adult loggerheads can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as 350 pounds and are believed to have a life span of up to 70 years. The name loggerhead refers to the size of its head, which is larger in proportion to its body than other marine turtles. The loggerheads head and upper shell (carapace) are dark, reddish brown. It’s flippers and lower shell (plastron) are light yellow. The outer layer of plates (scutes) on the loggerheads shell and head can be used to distinguish the various species of marine turtles.
Loggerhead nesting on Kiawah Island usually begins in mid-May and continues into early August. Each nest averages 100-150 eggs. Eggs hatch in approximately two months and the hatchlings after making their way to the surface, travel down the beach, into the surf and continue swimming away from land into the open ocean for several days eventually finding refuge and resting in the sargassum floats. After reaching maturity, female turtles will return again to Kiawah’s beach to repeat the nesting cycle.
The loggerhead sea turtle was listed as a threatened species in 1978 under the Endangered Species Act and the State Nongame Act. The highly migratory behavior of sea turtles makes them shared resources among many nations; therefore, sea turtles are protected by various international treaties and agreements as well as national laws
Loggerheads face threats on both nesting beaches and in the marine environment. The greatest cause of decline and the continuing primary threat to loggerhead turtle populations worldwide is incidental capture in fishing gear, primarily in longlines and gillnets, but also in trawls, traps and pots, and dredges.
Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol:
Sea turtle nests on Kiawah Island are monitored annually by the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol, a group of dedicated volunteers. The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol has been in existence since 1973 and the Town of Kiawah Island has provided funding and logistical support to the program since 1990. During the nesting season, volunteers patrol the entire beach by truck each morning to locate and mark nests that were laid the previous night. Nests found to close to the tide line are moved further inward to protect them from being washed over by high tides. Turtle Patrol volunteers monitor the marked nests daily for emergence of hatchlings. After hatching, each nest is excavated and an inventory is taken of the nest contents. Detailed records are kept of all activities and a report is prepared annually for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
To learn more about sea turtle conservation efforts on Kiawah Island, the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol, types of sea turtles seen locally, and see records from previous years visit www.wildlifeatkiawah.com or www.kiawahturtles.com.
Photo by Kelly Bragg