SCUTE volunteers relocate nest to give hatchlings best chance for survival

  • Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eileen Keithly/South Strand News Bob Deragan and Bill Raley prepare the last stake to be positioned in the sand while Gwen Hensel explains the SCUTE program to Zach Benton, a WHS senior. Kathy Raley prepares a string to place around the stakes to further protect the next.

Photos

Twelve South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE) volunteers successfully relocated a loggerhead sea turtle nest containing 105 eggs on North Litchfield Beach on June 14.

The relocation created a safe place for the baby turtles to hatch and launch themselves into their ocean home.

“This is my first relocation,” said an excited Bunny Lundgren. “I walk on Thursdays, but when I got the call I came quickly.”

SCUTE volunteers patrol the beaches from North Inlet in Georgetown County to North Myrtle Beach every morning looking for signs of nests.

“The nest was not in a safe location,” she said. “So we had to relocate it.”

The name of South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts says it all. This is an enthusiastic and passionate group of volunteers. Kathy Raley, the matriarch of this particular group, is known to most on the beach as “Turtle Kathy.” “When you see the eggs glistening in a nest, they look like big beautiful Tahitian pearls,” she said.

Under the direction of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), SCUTE is one of 30 volunteer sea turtle protection projects along the South Carolina coastline.

Nest protection began in the early 1980s in response to a decline in the loggerhead population due to loss of habitat, boat strikes, fishing and shrimping issues.

According to DNR data, the work of these dedicated volunteers is paying off. For the last four years, nesting numbers in South Carolina have been steadily increasing, indicating the loggerhead species could be in recovery.

Bob and Sue Deragan were on their regular beat June 14, walking at sunrise looking for large turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dunes and back – the telltale sign that a mother turtle has laid and buried her eggs.

Beaming from ear to ear, Sue Deragan shared her early morning discovery with another volunteer.

“This is so exciting, I just can’t believe it,” Deragan said, relating that the find was her first.

“Turtle Kathy” explained that once the tracks are located, “the calls go out” and the volunteers gather quickly to look for nesting clues and evaluate the location. If the nest is determined to be in an unsafe location, as this particular nest was, the volunteers carefully and with great precision gather the eggs and relocate them to the nearest safe location.

This nest was moved approximately 30 yards north, out of foot traffic and closer to the dunes to protect it from high tides.

With the nest relocated and protected with plastic mesh, it was only fitting that Bob Deragan drove in one of the last stakes that would protect his “grandturtles” from predators. His wife took one last picture, and the two walked away from the nest, hand-in-hand, happy with their morning work.

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