Every day a baby sea turtle is born. In fact, they hatch all year-long, but mostly in the summer. Over the next few months, as thousands of locals and tourists will hit the beach, hundreds of these little hatchlings will break free from the nest to begin their dangerous journey to the water.
Wilson says the longer that a hatchling is on the beach, the more attractive it becomes to prey like ghost crabs, raccoons, and foxes. But their biggest danger is trash left behind by beachgoers.
“It’s not just the trash like a piece of plastic. It’s the sand toys, it’s the chairs, it’s the umbrellas and it’s even sand castles that look harmless and fun, “ Wilson said. “Every time they have a detour or an obstacle, it just lengthens their time on the beach and that is just dangerous for them.”
Wilson says the solution is simple. Leave the beach the way you found it.
“Taking everything off the beach and leaving it better than you found it. Flattened. Especially now that we’re getting into sea turtle hatching season,” Wilson said.
Summer doesn’t just signal the beginning of sea turtle hatching season, it is also a time to usher in fishing. But sometimes what a fisherman catches is not what they were hoping for.
“If you hook a sea turtle and you are on the fishing pier, you want to bring the sea turtle to the beachfront, to the sand instead of reeling it up onto the pier,” Katelyn McGlothlin, a sea turtle biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium, said.
If the sea turtle is small enough and there is a large net, McGlothlin says to try to get the sea turtle as close as you can to yourself and then pull it up with the net.
McGlothin says if you have to cut the fishing line leave a few feet behind.
“If you cut the line you want to leave several feet of fishing line for biology and vet staff to easily remove that line so the sea turtle doesn’t continue to swallow the hook and line,” McGlothin said. “Then you want to call the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources who will send a staff member or volunteer out to respond to that animal and bring it to us at the South Carolina Aquarium.”
Sea Turtle Nesting season runs until August.
For more information on sea turtle nesting season and how you can help save an injured sea turtle visit the South Carolina Aquarium at www.scaquarium.org.
Sharks play a significant role in the oceans. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. In that position, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.
That is why many shark experts say we should respect them.
Our world is a trashy society, and that is causing big problems to oceans and the marine life that call it home.
“I hope we would be more enlightened about throwing trash in the oceans,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “This was something that was done in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; then the environmental movement was supposed to educate people.”
Roland Geyer tallied how much plastic people have manufactured since its invention and he came up with more than eight-point-three billion metric tons. Geyer says that can cover the size of Argentina, which is the eighth-largest country in the world.
Abel says that plastic trash is causing big problems for the sharks and sea turtles that swim off the coast of Myrtle Beach.
“Plastics don’t usually break down entirely, but they break down into small components which organisms ingest. There are chemicals in there, and plastics themselves can block digestive tracts,” said Abel.
Caroline Collatos, a graduate student at Coastal Carolina University, says she has seen first-hand the damage plastics can cause.
“Both of my field seasons so far I have seen direct evidence of plastic physically harming and cutting into sharks,” said Collatos.
Last year Collatos and her team caught two sharks that were suffering from plastic wounds. One shark, a female black tip, had the plastic cord wrapped around her neck. Collatos says it cut her so deep the muscle was showing.
Collatos believes this shark was already halfway through her healing period when she was caught.
“Sharks can be very resilient when it comes to wounds, and they have a very fast and effective healing process,” said Collatos. “This shark was halfway through her original healing period, so her original wounds must have been much worse than what we saw.”
A few weeks later a female Juvenile Sandbar shark was caught. That shark was also suffering from plastic injuries. This time it was plastic cord used to wrap around a box that cut into this shark’s fifth gill.
Both plastics were removed from each shark; they were tagged and released.
Abel says the sharks are incredibly lucky they were caught.
“We were able to save both sharks, but they would have certainly died within weeks if we had not caught it on a long line and removed the strap,” said Abel.
Winyah Bay is a prime location to go shark tagging because it has a huge watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, with four different rivers dumping into the Bay. It is also the primary pathway to the Atlantic Ocean.
Many fishing vessels, sharks, and sea turtles all share this open water. The increase in congestion means more pollution, and sharks are not the only animals at risk.
Sea turtles also suffer dangerous consequences from ocean debris.
“Sea turtles have a really small brain, and they eat a lot of things that look like trash. They will eat a lot of jellies and fish and so they will mistake trash for their prey,” said Ann Wilson, park ranger. “Their brains are so little they won’t learn from their mistakes.”
“It is because of our picnics, or what we take to a fishing pier. Even out on the roadway with wind and then it blows out towards the ocean,” said Wilson.
But Wilson feels fishermen pose the biggest threat to our sea turtles.
“To me, fishing line is a really slow death. As an animal keeps growing it’s going to keep strangling and strangling. It’s not going to be a quick easy death,” said Wilson.
When a sea turtle gets caught in fishing line, that is where the biologists at the South Carolina Aquarium come into play. They nurse these injured animals back to health.
“We see plastic ingestion, many of our turtles will eat the plastic out in the wild or pass it in their tank or pass it while they are here in rehab,” said Katelyn McGlothlin, a sea turtle biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium. “We had two patients we had to do surgery on to remove that plastic, which was fishing line that the animal had ingested. It was wrapped around her neck and front left flipper.”
McGlothin says that many of their patients who have ingested plastic will pass it on their own, and will spend seven to nine months in their aquarium recovering.
While some work daily to save the lives of these marine animals, there are others who are not aware of the dangers plastics pose to sharks or turtles.
“It’s very disturbing I honestly did not realize that was happening and that was going on with the animals,” said Loes Muller, beachgoer.
Muller says she is better educated now since seeing pictures of sharks with plastic wrapped around their necks. She says she will help educate others enjoying the beach to make sure everyone does their part to save marine life.
“I feel a lot of people don’t realize what they are doing and how it is affecting the animals out in the ocean,” said Muller.
“We want to make sure that they know we are thinking about them,” said Carol Dion, vice president of Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina.
More than 30 volunteers spent a Saturday morning packing over 100 boxes. The boxes will head to our servicemen and women who are away from home. Each box contains comforts of home like toiletries, cookies, magazines, and soup. Although the boxes will not bring families closer together, they will offer some familiar comforts.
“Our ultimate goal is to send them a little piece of home. They will open a box and see a package of Oreos. If you are in a God forsaken place you are not going to get Oreos,” said Dion.
Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina is a non-profit organization made up of parents who have children serving our country in the Armed Forces. The group frequently gets together to pack boxes to send to our troops. The boxes are sent to deployed troops but mailing the boxes are not cheap. To ship one box cost $17.95 and the post office does not offer a discount. So the Blue Star Mother of Coastal Carolina depends upon the generosity of the community to help them fulfill their mission.
“We have two more packings that we want to do. We do a Halloween and a Christmas packing,” said Dion. “At this point, we may be a little bit short at the end of the year for our Christmas packing.”
Dion says every penny collected goes towards the troops.
Wayne Talaber with the VFW Riders Murrells Inlet not only stopped by to help pack boxes but made a donation on his group’s behalf.
“Our Veterans and our active military are the biggest things for us. We support them 100 percent, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure that these keep going,” said Talaber.
For others, this event was a chance for parents to teach their child a lesson about helping others.
“They are fighting for our country, and they are overseas and can’t get stuff like this,” said Lilly Lawson, Volunteer. “It makes me feel really good that we are helping someone else.”
“The first ones are always one of the most special ones,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “We never know what we are going to pull up when we set a long line. Or what we will see when we are on the way to set a long line.”
Acoustic telemeters are little pingers that ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For researchers to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver.
Abel says Winyah Bay is so diverse and offers many surprises every time they head out to fish.
“What’s always surprising to me is the diversity and abundance of sharks and the size range in such a small ecosystem,” said Abel. “Winyah Bay has a very large watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, but the bay itself is not that large for it to have that many sharks and rays inhabiting it.”
Think of Winyah Bay as a hunting ground, where it comes down to the survival of the fittest.
“We have learned there is a mix of sharks within the bay, and they tend to divide themselves so the small ones can find safety and the big ones can find plenty of prey and room to swim around,” said Abel.
So, what is the draw for the sharks?
“We have learned that most of the sharks like high salinity waters, so it’s an estuary,” said Abel.
Salinity is the amount of dissolved salts that are present in water. It is that salinity that Abel says plays a role in why sharks visit Winyah Bay.
“The sharks will divide themselves based on salinities. Most of the big sharks, the oceanic or the near coastal sharks like high salinities,” said Abel. “Some of the smaller life stages we see will move up the river, and that will protect them from the bigger sharks.”
Salinity levels in Winyah Bay fluctuate because it has four rivers dumping into it.
“When there is a lot of rain in the water shed, the fresh water coming out can be quite significant which can lower the salinities, and not many sharks can live in low salinities,” said Abel.
Sharks. For some, the mere word is scary enough to avoid the Atlantic Ocean on a hot summer day.
The fear is real and has a name. The condition is known as galeophobia.
Whether you believe it or not, when you step into the ocean you are literally swimming with the fishes. These ocean predators coexist peacefully with surfers and sun bathers, and chances are you are not even aware of their presence.
In fact, very few are lucky enough to meet one of these majestic marine beasts.
According to Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, sharks should be embraced.
“People fear sharks when they should respect them. When you go to the beach you should be comforted knowing there are sharks swimming in the surf line,” said Abel. “A healthy ocean needs its sharks so we shouldn’t fear them.”
Abels says humans are the sharks biggest threat. Humans catch them for their fins, that is used in shark fin soup, or they are caught and used as trophies.
Abel knows what he is talking about; he has been studying sharks for more than 30 years. Every year he holds a semester at sea where students get an up close and personal look at these guardians of the ocean.
Abel says most of the time sharks have no interest in humans. Yes, sharks are predators, but none of them have humans as a regular prey on their menu. Sharks prefer smaller fish like squid and shrimp. But Abel says, there are some things you can do to prevent a trip to the hospital.
“Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. That is when many sharks feed,” said Abel. “Avoid swimming near piers where people are fishing and if you see a school of fish, get out of the water.”
“No, that does not mean they are coming after you. Most of the time people see a wave or a dolphin,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department. “Sharks rarely do this, and when they do, they may be chasing prey that swam up to the surface.”
Again, there is a small chance that a shark will bite you, but if you do go in the ocean here are some more tips to make that risk even lower.
It’s that time of year to feed your shark feeding frenzy appetite. Shark week is just around the corner and for some researchers, studying and tracking sharks happens year-round, not just one week out of the year.
One of the most popular sharks that people like to track is Mary Lee. She was tagged in September of 2012 off the coast of Cape Cod. To see her tagging video click here.
According to the global shark tracker, Mary Lee has traveled almost 40,000 miles since she was tagged, many of her travels have taken her off the coast of South Carolina. Through her tag, researchers were able to tell if she was pregnant just by her movements and where she would spend time during certain times of the year.
The tagging process must run efficiently. According to OCEARCH, it should only take 15 minutes to get the shark onboard, tagged and back into the water.
This research is not only happening in the deep depths of the Atlantic Ocean. There are also tagging efforts happening right off the coast of South Carolina. Marine Biologists with Coastal Carolina University focus on the smaller resident sharks that call Winyah Bay home.
But did you know it also makes for a great place to raise kids? Shark “kids” that is.
“Winyah Bay is a primary and secondary nursery. A primary nursery is where an animal will go and give birth, and a secondary nursery will be where that baby then grows up,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department at Coastal Carolina University.
Collatos believes that Winyah Bay is a secondary nursery for three different species of sharks.
“The evidence we collected is showing us that this bay provides an area for these juveniles to grow up and hopefully become sexually reproductive and add to the population,” said Collatos.
Sharks move due to the change of season. Some sharks are more tolerant to colder or warmer temperatures which decide when they leave an area.
“Winyah Bay has both cold water and warm water species. In the winter we have two different species that use the bay. They are spiny dogfish and smooth dogfish sharks,” said Collatos. “In the summer, we have four species that use the bay frequently; the most dominant species is the Juvenile Sandbar shark.”
Collatos says a lot of juvenile sharks that grow up in Winyah Bay eventually move out to coastal areas. But they have also seen older sharks make their way into the bay as well.
“We also have a lot of older adult sharks that come into Winyah Bay to feed on smaller sharks or other prey,” said Collatos.
Sharks are not the only animal that heads to Winyah Bay to mate. Recently the CCU Shark research team caught a female stingray that had two males trying to mate with her as the team brought her in on the fishing line.
So why are the waters of Winyah Bay so attractive to sharks? It is a question Coastal Carolina marine biologists are hoping to answer through their tag and release program.
“One of our aims is to simply look at the demographics of shark populations,” said Abel. “What factors influence the presence and absence and the diversity of sharks in ecosystems.”
The process of tracking sharks is tedious and precise. Abel and his students bait 25 hooks on a line that is 150 meters long. The line has floats and anchors at both ends. Once the lines are in the water, they soak for 30-45 minutes. The students then hand pull the line in, hoping they have a shark on one of the hooks.
“Acoustic telemeters are little pingers,” said Abel. “We make a two-inch incision in the abdomen and put a double A battery-sized instrument inside, sew it back up, and it will ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For us to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver. Fortunately, there’s a ray of receivers up and down the coast and worldwide.”
Acoustic tagging allows CCU students to track the movements of return visitors to Winyah Bay.
Besides the tagging trips to Winyah Bay, Dr. Abel takes his students every May to the Shark Lab in Bimini, which is located in the Bahamas. Abel says the students get an up close and personal look at the sharks and the stingrays. Abel says everything they learn in Bimini prepares them for their Winyah Bay tagging trips.
To learn more about the Coastal Carolina shark research team’s findings, click here.