CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Wednesday marks one week since Tropical Storm Idalia swept through South Carolina, causing significant flooding and beach erosion along the coastline.
In the aftermath, biologists and wildlife experts are keeping a close eye on how sea turtle nests fared during the storm.
In some areas, the combination of storm surge, battering waves, and a full moon meant turtle nests took on a lot of water.
According to experts, nests can take on some water — it can cool down the eggs — but are largely unable to withstand the heavy washover and sustained water presence that Idalia brought. In these instances, the consequences can be deadly.
“Nests with unhatched eggs can take some light wash over as long as the water drains completely from the nest cavity,” biologist Michelle Pate with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) said. “If hatchlings are in the cavity awaiting to emerge they can drown.”
An initial survey following the storm found that approximately 600 nests were lost across state beaches, according to SCDNR. These nests either washed away in the storm or were unable to be recovered due to the extent of damage.
“Most of the damage to the nests from Idalia was in areas between Edisto and Yawkey Wildlife Center,” Pate said, noting that assessments are ongoing.
That includes Folly Beach where the season was off to a strong start with 128 nests to date, which is considered an above-average year. However, volunteers said it has been difficult to locate most of the nests following the storm due to significant erosion.
“We got hit pretty hard,” said Dave Miller, who is the permit holder for the program. “We had to our best knowledge 32 nests and we lost 21 nests of those 32. Not only did we lose 21 nests, but 20 of them still probably had turtles in them.”
According to Miller, this was the greatest loss of sea turtle nests reported on Folly Beach since Hurricane Irma swept through in 2017.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist Grace Lowe joined the Folly Beach Turtle Watch Program for a survey on Sept. 6, one week after the storm hit, and found a nest with 84 unhatched eggs, 35 hatched eggs, and 3 dead turtles — a 29.1% success rate.
Still, biologists say a handful of nests on Folly Beach and other areas along the coastline were unaffected by Idalia and they are hopeful for a strong end to the season.