A 441-pound leatherback is rescued on Folly

Special to The Current

Thanks to timely appearance and quick thinking of Folly Beach City Councilmember and Folly Beach Turtle Watch (FBTW) volunteer Teresa Marshall and her neighbors at Marshview Villas, a 441-pound leatherback sea turtle was rescued from the marsh after being stranded by King Tides early Friday, May 6.

High tide was at 8 a.m., the stranded turtle sighted about 9:30 a.m., and was on its way to the hospital by 11 a.m. Marshall and her neighbors helped save the large turtle, which was named Mariner, from what could have been a long and perhaps deadly day baking in the sun before the tide’s return.

Marshall notified FBTW stranding crew coordinator Bob Neville and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who quickly responded with extra help to shade, cool, and coax the turtle onto a tarp for a mighty heavy lift and carry to the DNR truck for transport to the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital.

Mariner, received hydration and medical attention from the staff of the SC Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program, which aids sick and injured sea turtles in partnership with DNR. After a day of treatment Mariner was sent back to the sea and Marshall and the FBTW crew was there to help.

Mariner measured 5 feet in length and weighed 441 pounds. Leatherbacks can grow well over 6 feet and weigh upwards of a ton. All seven species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered. However, leatherbacks are the largest of the seven and are extremely rare to find in the Lowcountry.

According to the FBTW website, Leatherback sea turtles have nested on Folly Beach three times in past seasons, but this is the first live leatherback stranding Folly has experienced, and only the second admitted to the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital for immediate care and release.

So far for 2016 the season has gotten off to a fast start with six nests arriving on Folly in one week, and more than 200 in the state in just over two weeks. The arrival of six nests in seven days means that six individual sea turtles have nested on Folly so far this year. With luck, they’ll be back to lay their next nests on Folly any day now, and be joined by new arrivals.

FBTW was organized in 1998 as a volunteer group licensed by the DNR to protect sea turtles, their nests, and hatchlings on Folly Beach. Today, about 25 volunteers contribute their time and energy each turtle season (May-October) to protect an average of 45 nests on Folly Beach. Nest protection includes recording new nests, assessing site selection and moving the nest if necessary to protect it from tidal flooding, monitoring each nest’s progress until hatching, and inventorying nest contents after hatching has taken place.  Data is collected on each nest’s success and submitted to DNR. 

Folly Beach Turtle Watch has put together a list of what you can do to protect our turtles:

• Lights out from Dusk to Dawn.  Baby sea turtles are attracted to the brightest horizon which should be over the ocean.  Artificial light from houses – cars – street lights and flash lights can easily disorient hatchlings and lead them away from the ocean.

• Remove Beach Equipment.  This includes tents – chairs – coolers – toys – fishing gear.  Obstructions like these slow a turtle’s progress and may result in entanglement.

• Pick up your trash.  Plastic bags – diapers – soda cans – plastic bottles.

• Fill in holes.  Holes are traps!  Please fill in holes after you have finished playing or digging.

• Do not disturb sea turtles or nests.  They are endangered animals and are protected by Federal and State laws.

• Report any tracks or turtles to FB Public Safety.  843-588-2433.  They have the numbers of Folly Beach section leaders and stranding leader.

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