Members of the Hunting Island Sea Turtle Conservation Project found a nest of turtle hatchlings belonging to a rarely-seen species of the reptiles last week, according to a volunteer.
Dory Ingram said the nest of leatherback turtle eggs was initially found June 7 south of the Hunting Island campground, the first leatherback nest found on the island since 2011.
Typically, only about one or two leatherback nests are found along the South Carolina coast each year since the turtles lay most of their eggs further south in tropical climates such as Costa Rica, volunteer Buddy Lawrence said.
Of the 84 eggs found in the nest, 18 hatchlings emerged from their eggs Aug. 10 and made their way to the ocean, Ingram said.
During the volunteer group's inventory of the nest Aug. 13, one live hatchling was found stuck in grass roots as it tried to leave the nest. The hatchling was four inches long and weighed about the same as two or three smaller loggerhead hatchlings, Ingram said. That lone remaining live hatchling was released into the ocean following the inventory, she said.
Even rarer than the nest itself was the success rate, which Ingram said was unprecedented for Hunting Island.
Of those 84 eggs in the nest, 48 had fully developed hatchlings.
In 2011, the leatherback nest on Hunting Island produced only two hatchlings, she said.
Ingram urged beachgoers to pick up garbage along beaches, as the leatherback hatchlings are susceptible to eating garbage that floats toward the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. Leatherback hatchlings instinctually head toward the sea to hide from predators, but end up eating many of the small plastics that float in the sea.
"They consume anything that is smaller than themselves," she said. "In a healthy ocean, this would consist of appropriate food. However, recent studies of stranded sea turtle hatchlings show that virtually 100 percent of them contain small shards of plastic as well as microscopic pieces of garbage."