Isle of Palms woman works to save sea turtles one nest, one egg, one hatchling at at time

Mary Pringle (WCIV)

They have been around for 110 million years, but thirty years ago Loggerhead sea turtles were placed on the endangered species list.

Now an Isle of Palms woman is doing all she can to make sure the turtle population rebounds and thrives. One nest, one egg and one baby turtle at a time. It’s why Mary Pringle is this month's Jefferson Award winner.

The first trace of light. The first sign of dawn. The sun rises, ready to shine light on new life.

All the while, the tide rushes in a new day and Mary Pringle rushes to find baby turtles.

"Excitement on the people’s faces is very special. Even had people cry it just makes me go wow," said Pringle.

For the past 20 years, Pringle has been tending to the most tender of creatures.

"This nest was laid the 18th of May, no idea how many eggs were laid because we didn't relocate. We are going to have to count the egg shells, hope some turtles are in there but might not be because it was 3 days ago," said Pringle.

Mary helps lead the Island Turtle team of Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms. She’s always an arm’s length away. On this day, she helped recover baby turtles from a nest hatched three days ago.

"We always check to see if they are mature and ready to go into ocean. If not they go back into the sand to finish, but these are all mature,’ said Pringle.

Once the scrambled eggs are separated, the babies are carried to the ocean. All under the watchful eyes of volunteers and curious turtle seekers.

“Having other people see the inventories and hatching turtles, brings it back to us how important it is and what a privilege it is to do what we do," said Pringle.

To see it happen is nothing short of amazing, to understand the turtles journey is mind boggling.

"It's a very moving thing to watch a young loggerhead begin its life. He has to swim to the gulf stream, migrate across the Atlantic ocean. They are so tiny, they are just 2 inches long. How in the world can the creature do it ? It is very special," said Pringle.

The struggle is real for these little guys. Only 1 in 1000 hatchilings will live to adulthood.

The good news is recent studies show the Loggerhead population is trending upwards.

"That was only the first of 8 nests that have hatched on Sullivan’s Island. We’ve had 13 out of 40 on the Isle of Palms. We are not halfway there yet," said Pringle.

Her bag stays packed. Her bucket is always full. Mary Pringle is on the move. There’s something else out there to save.

“I’ve always been interested in nature. I wanted to be out on the beach and working with birds of prey, shore birds, sea turtles and I enjoy it very much. Feel like you are making a difference in rescuing and helping with conservation of species that might not be doing so well if we didn't help,” said Pringle.


ABC News 4 has committed to profile people in the Lowcountry who go above and beyond by giving their time and talents to help the people around them. It's all part of our partnership with the Jefferson Awards, a national organization dedicated to recognizing and celebrating those who serve and lead.

If you would like to share someone's story of volunteerism who needs to be recognized, click here.

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