Discovered on Kiawah Island, the sea turtle suffers from leucism, a condition that decreases color pigmentation and often makes an animal appear white or spotted

By Eric Todisco
October 22, 2020 02:22 PM
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Rare White Sea Turtle
| Credit: Town of Kiawah Island, SC/Facebook

A rare white sea turtle hatchling was discovered Sunday on a beach in South Carolina, much to the surprise of town officials.

The town of Kiawah Island, located 25 miles from Charleston, said on Facebook that the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol found the baby sea turtle crawling through the sand.

"You can imagine the excited 'oohs' and the 'aahs' from the guests, including some College of Charleston students, when the (beach) patroller found a lone, leucistic hatchling in the nest," the town wrote alongside several photos of the sea turtle hatchling.

According to officials, the sea turtle has leucism, which is a condition that decreases color pigmentation and often makes an animal appear white or spotted.

"Leucism is different from albinism, as albino animals have a complete loss of pigment, leaving them completely white with red or pink eyes,” officials added.

Credit: Town of Kiawah Island, SC/Facebook
Credit: Town of Kiawah Island, SC/Facebook
Credit: Town of Kiawah Island, SC/Facebook

The sea turtle conservation group The Olive Ridley Project reports that sea turtles with leucism are rare due to their low odds of survival in the ocean.

"Leucism is an abnormal genetic defect, and not a useful one," the group said. "Camouflage is important to all animals, particularly very small sea turtle hatchlings that are predated on by almost everything. So, to be born white makes you stand out and be very visible to predators."

Credit: Town of Kiawah Island, SC/Facebook

Turtle nesting season on Kiwah Island runs yearly from May 1 through October 31, according to the town's website. The Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol is one of the largest turtle patrol volunteer programs in the United States and has been in existence since 1973, the town said.

In a Aug. 24 Facebook post, the town said there were 339 turtle nests, while Sandy Point, which is located at the far eastern end of our island, reported 43 nests, bringing the island's total to over 380 turtle nests.

The following month, Kiwah Island reported that 80% of the sea turtle eggs hatched by mid-September and were inventoried.