Beaufort County sea turtle lovers say nesting is nearing record levels this year, leading them to hope efforts to protect the threatened animals are paying off.
On Hilton Head Island, 163 nests have been spotted so far. There were 180 in 2009. In 1999, 218 nests were discovered, the most in any season since counting began in 1985.
"It's still really early in the season," said Amy Tressler, manager of the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Project. "We're very, very optimistic about what's going on this year."
Fripp Island and Hunting Island State Park report increases over last year, too. Statewide numbers are strong as well, said DuBose Griffin with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
Mitch Helms, a ranger at Hunting Island, said 79 nests have been found there so far this year, one fewer than in all of 2009 and 19 more than in 2008.