There is only one thing that can rival the excitement of summer vacation on Hilton Head Island, and that’s sea turtle season! The long stretch between May and October welcomes the island’s most seasoned visitors—Loggerhead sea turtles. The local community and non-profit groups such as Sea Turtle Patrol HHI and Turtle Trackers of HHI, work tirelessly to protect these endangered creatures.
Once the sun goes down and beachgoers have left for the day, the stage is set for nesting sea turtles to make their way up the beach to lay their clutch of eggs. After finding a nesting site that’s dark and quiet, the female may lay an average of 110 eggs per clutch, and 4 clutches per season. Loggerheads are also known to nest at least once on what is considered their natal beach, or the beach where they themselves hatched.
If sea turtles are disturbed while nesting, they will return to the water and try again later that night or within a few days. The egg’s survival is dependent on whether or not the sea turtle finds a fitting site to nest, so it is crucial that our beaches maintain the necessary conditions.
You might’ve already heard the term, “Lights Out for Sea Turtles!” Although it doesn’t necessarily affect the interior of the island, it’s important for everyone to know. Beaufort County has a lighting ordinance set from May to October that prohibits visible light on beaches, including houses, resorts, as well as flashlights.
Why is this important? Not only do nesting sea turtles keep away from brightly-lit areas on the beach, there’s a possibility that once hatched, the babies might get distracted by other light sources that are in the opposite direction of where they need to go. Sea turtles are phototactic creatures, meaning that they are drawn to light. In this case, baby sea turtles are hard-wired to know that if they follow the moonlight reflecting on the ocean’s waves, they’ll make it to the water’s edge.
When you’re ready to leave the beach for the day, make sure to pack up all of your gear and take it with you. Personal property left unattended overnight will be disposed of. Beach furniture and larger objects can pose as obstacles for nesting sea turtles, sometimes even entangling them!
Hilton Head does a great job at providing trash cans in convenient locations along the island’s beaches, so even if you happen to spot a stray piece of trash that wasn’t yours, please pick it up on your way out.
Keeping our beaches clean helps the entirety of island wildlife, not just sea turtles.
Fill in Holes
Although it’s a sad thought to build a sandcastle and moat only to have to knock it down again, we need to keep the beaches as level as possible. It’s important to limit the number of obstacles both adult and baby sea turtles could potentially come into contact with. Volunteers who walk the beach do a great job at filling holes and flattening sandcastles each evening. Their time would be better spent educating beachgoers about sea turtles if everyone did their part in preparing the beach for the night.
Keep Off the Tracks
If you’re out for an early morning stroll and happen upon some wavy-looking tracks in the sand, make sure to stay off of them! It’s important to leave the sea turtle’s tracks intact so that Turtle Patrol knows where to find the nest. Once the nest has been found and marked, Turtle Patrol will make x’s through the tracks.
Sea Turtle Patrol HHI
This volunteer-based 501C3 non-profit organization is responsible for searching beaches on Hilton Head Island for turtle tracks and nests. After a nest has been found, it is marked and entered into the SCDNR database for further monitoring throughout the 45-day incubation period. After the hatchlings emerge, the team then inventories the nest 3 days later.
Check on the latest sea turtle nest count on Hilton Head Island here!
Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head
Also a 501C3 volunteer-run organization, the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head’s main mission is to assist in the preservation efforts of endangered sea turtles that nest on Hilton Head, as well as educating the public about the best ways to protect hatchlings headed to the ocean. You can help the Turtle Trackers by cleaning up after your day at the beach as well as flattening any sand structures you made or fill any holes you’ve dug.