Leatherback Sea Turtle nest on Kiawah Island!

During the very early hours of April 17th, an enormous female Leatherback Sea Turtle made her way onto Kiawah’s beach front to lay her eggs.  Bringing some history along with her, this is the first sea turtle nest in South Carolina for the 2012 nesting season and only the second known leatherback nest on our island.

What we know…. The track width of our female was 5’11” from flipper to flipper, not surprising since these endangered turtles are among the largest reptiles in the world, commonly exceeding 1,000 pounds.   An evaluation by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources revealed 87 billiard-ball size eggs and 47 smaller spacer eggs.  Spacer eggs, characteristic of leatherback nests, have no yolk just a clear liquid.  Scientists are unclear on the exact function of the spacer eggs.

Since Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol began keeping records in the 1980’s, this is only the second Leatherback Sea Turtle nest on Kiawah. According to SCDNR there have been an increasing number of these turtles in our coastal waters since the 1980’s.  The highest numbers occur in the spring when they are feeding on our abundant cannonball jellyfish.

Nesting of Leatherbacks occurs between March and July, so our female is within the typical nesting season.  With an incubation time of 60 to 65 days, we expect the nest to hatch in mid-June.  Like most species of sea turtles, a single female leatherback will lay several clutches within the season.  Leatherback clutches are typically laid 9 to 10 days apart and frequently in fairly close proximity to her other nests.  Could this mean Charleston County will have a 2nd Leatherback nest before the end of the month?

Follow us on Facebook / Kiawah Island Nature Program for all the latest on Kiawah’s 2012 Sea Turtle nesting season.  Discover how you can help protect sea turtles by joining our Naturalists on a Night Beach Walk or Ocean Seining class. Special thank you to the Kiawah Island Beach Patrol and Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol in helping to protect our amazing wildlife