ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. -- It is a once it a lifetime experience a Charlotte family vacationing at a South Carolina beach witnessed three times over.
“It was such an amazing experience,” said mom Kelly Futrell.
The family was visiting Isle of Palms when they noticed an area roped off on the beach protecting two sea turtle nests.
“There were two holes side by side,” Futrell said.
She said in the middle of the day they saw two come up through the sand. The sand was starting to cave in so they knew there would be more.
Knowing sea turtles usually hatch at night, the family returned to the spot later that evening.
“My daughter got her boogie board and was working to get the sand flat,” Futrell said.
Around 8:30 p.m. they noticed the sand cave in and within minutes more than 50 sea turtles broke free headed toward the water.
“There were probably 70-75,” Futrell said.
With the flattened path that her daughter helped pave, Futrell said all of the turtles made it to the water.
The second night the family returned to the same spot and sure enough, they witnessed more hatching. And on the third night they witnessed about five more come from the first hole.
Futrell captured the first hatching on her cell phone, but on the second and third night she said she put the phone down to “just enjoy the moment.”
“You can’t say anything bad about the video,” she said. “It’s just a nice video to watch and make you feel good.”
In the video volunteers are visible wearing gloves and helping the turtles stay on the path. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources has a Marine Turtle Conservation Program. They have more than 100 volunteers in Isle of Palms who find and protect nests.
There are 40 loggerhead sea turtle nests along Isle of Palms with 4,900 along the South Carolina coast, according to Erin Weeks, a spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Nature Resources.
“It’s pretty unusual to see even one hatching,” Weeks said. “It can be a pretty emotional experience.”
If you happen to witness a hatching, DNR says:
- Observe from a safe distance. The less interaction with humans the better
- Turn ocean facing porch lights off at night to avoid disorientation
- Don’t use a flashlight or flash photography
Sea turtle nests average about 120 eggs and it typically takes 60 days to incubate.
Isle of Palms is a popular beach for vacationers so Weeks said there are dedicated team on every public beach to check on the nests and inventory the nest after the eggs hatch. The volunteers are permitted by the DNR.
In 2016 there were 400,000 hatchlings in South Carolina, but their chance of making it to adulthood is very small, according to Weeks. They estimate about 400 of those made it to adult sea turtles.