AWENDAW, S.C. (WCBD) — The first sea turtle nest of 2022 was spotted on Monday, just one day after the official start of nesting season in South Carolina.

A sea turtle ‘crawl’ is the track left by a female coming ashore to find a suitable place to dig a nest and lay her eggs. This crawl on Lighthouse Island led to the state’s first nest of the season. (Photo: Gina McQuilken | SCDNR)

Staff and volunteers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified tracks belonging to a loggerhead sea turtle in the sand on Lighthouse Island at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Cape Romain, which is about 45 minutes north of Charleston, is one of the densest sea turtle nesting locations along the East Coast.

There are four species of sea turtles that nest on South Carolina beaches, but loggerheads are the most common, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The other species are greens, kemp’s ridleys and leatherbacks.

The nesting season lasts from May 1 to Oct. 31. SCDNR reports that during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, approximately 11,204 sea turtle nests were laid. Nest numbers across the Southeast have trended up over the last decade, indicating some success in recent conservation efforts.

“We’re excited and optimistic for a great nesting season for sea turtles along our coast.”

SCDNR biologist Michelle Pate, who leads the state’s sea turtle nesting program

An average sea turtle clutch contains about 120 eggs that hatch after approximately 60 days. Nesting females typically nest every two weeks, laying up to six nests per season.

Residents are encouraged to keep artificial lights and beachfront property lights off at night during nesting season as they can confuse hatchlings and nesting mothers.

Sea turtles are protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act. Disturbing, harming, or interfering with sea turtles or their nests can result in fines of up to $25,000 and up to a year in prison.