As Irma made its way through the Grand Strand bringing flood waters and heavy wind, the storm took more than a dozen sea turtle nests with it.
“Two things can happen with a lost nest, you lose all of your markers, for all you know the nest is still somewhere in the sand dunes but you just can’t find it anymore,” said Ann Wilson, a ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park. “Or when you have erosion, literally the nest gets washed out to sea.”
In Myrtle Beach, only one nest was lost in Irma, said Wilson, but other areas weren’t as fortunate.
Pawleys Island had six nests left and lost four of them, according to Wilson.
She said Litchfield Beach had seven nests remaining and lost six.
“We got fairly lucky here at the park,” Wilson said. “We have four [nests] remaining, but all of those nests got over-washed by Irma. I hope they’re going to be OK. It’s too soon to tell, they’re not due to hatch for a while, so we’ll just have to be kind of patient and wait.”
When the combination of high tide and storm surge from Irma caused widespread flooding throughout the South Strand, the sea turtle nests got washed out.
Wilson said the nests can tolerate over-wash from high tides, but it depends on several conditions. A nest “breathes” and the storm surge can interfere with the air circulation and drown the nest.
“It just depends how long the water was there, how long water sat in the nest, how fast it could drain, we also had a huge amount of rain,” she added. “And nests that are incubating, especially earlier, they can handle over-wash better than a nest that actually hatched already, but hadn’t emerged, and literally the hatchlings could drown.”
But Wilson says she’s staying optimistic about the four remaining nests since they weren’t that close to hatching.
Even though 10 nests were lost between Pawleys Island and Litchfield, 39 nests had already hatched in those areas, according to Mary Schneider, coordinator of the South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (S.C.U.T.E.) for Pawleys Island.
Only three sea turtle nests were lost in the Garden City and Surfside Beach areas, a Facebook post from the Garden City/Surfside S.C.U.T.E. notes. Nine remain on those beaches.
“Thank goodness we moved all Surfside Beach nests when they were laid due to the renourishment project that was happening there,” the post states. “All renourishment sand is gone from Surfside.”
No sea turtle nests were lost in North Myrtle Beach, according to the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol.
“Here’s the good news,” Wilson said. “Sea turtles do not lay all of their eggs in one basket, they’ve been laying eggs since May. Probably well over 50 percent of the nests in South Carolina had already hatched and emerged successfully, so they can handle hurricanes much better than some species because that’s why they have such a long nesting season, so that all of their eggs aren’t just wiped out by one storm.”