Hunting Island and Hurricane Irma

While most of Beaufort County, South Carolina sustained high winds and flooding – in contrast to what was originally forecasted for Hurricane Irma – the town escaped the level of havoc incurred by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  Unfortunately, this was not the case for the beach on Hunting Island.

Matthew vs. Irma

According to Daniel Gambrell, park manager, “Hunting Island State Park faced a worse storm surge from Irma than it did from Matthew last October.“ This year, there were very few dunes to protect the island, and sadly, little to no protection for the remaining Loggerhead turtle nests and their hatchlings. 

Sea Turtles up against the odds . . .

Sea Turtle Conservation project coordinator Buddy Lawrence reported that all 14 nests [still incubating] were completely washed away. This season, Loggerheads females laid 106 nests in total, under the guidance of Lawrence who’s been hands-on with the turtle program for the last 16 years. These remaining nests included those relocated to higher ground by the 2017 Loggerhead volunteers. The other major difference between the two storms, last year’s nesting season was complete when Matthew made landfall on October 8, 2016.  This year’s storm arrived almost a full month earlier – leaving those 14 remaining clutches to endure the devastating wrath of Irma.

However, there was a glimpse of optimism that appeared on the horizon. According to Lawrence, “out of the remaining 14, four nests showed signs of emergence, where hatchling tracks were detected leading out to the sea.“ This means, some of these Loggerhead offspring may have survived to produce future generations on Hunting Island in years to come.  

Many biologists believe sea turtles have evolved to actually ‘work storm conditions’ to their advantage. “That’s why they lay 4 to 8 nests over a 3 month period,“ noted Lawrence. This increases their odds – allowing for a good percentage of nests to hatch, even when they’re up against the worst Mother Nature has to offer.

Alive & Thriving

Loggerhead survival rates are improving each year, due to the hard work invested by the Sea Turtle Conservation volunteers. It’s this type of advocacy that keeps programs like this alive and thriving on the island. 

 “Alive and thriving” are apt descriptors. Lawrence was able to photograph the last hatchling to depart from the island just two days before Irma hit land.  Dory Ingram, Friends of Hunting Island coordinator suggested naming her “Irma.” That seems apropos, as it underscores optimism in light of adversity – and perseverance overcoming hardship. It’s a reminder how a climactic natural event like a hurricane can evolve into one of hope and survival.

Last Hatchling to leave Hunting Island before Hurricane Irma


Primary Source: Hunting Island Loggerhead Turtles