By Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2020

AWENDAW, S.C. (AP) - The sea turtle nesting season started Friday in South Carolina.

A wildlife official found the first sea turtle nest of 2020 in the state at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge north of Charleston, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said in a statement.

Sea turtle season runs from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year, so the nest was found right on time. The first sea turtle nest in neighboring Georgia was found on April 25.

Last year was a record breaking year for turtle nests. Volunteers and scientists counted more than 8,800 nests, which was 37% higher than the previous record in 2016, wildlife officials said.

Only about 2,800 nests were reported in 2018, but scientists said female sea turtles do not come ashore each year to lay eggs.

The COVID-19 pandemic may alter nest counts in 2020. Typically, wildlife officials use 1,300 volunteers to walk the beach each morning and look for turtle tracks to count and protect nests. That volunteer network has been restricted while some beaches are closed and some state employees are asked to stay home.

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