What an amazing place we live! We have beautiful beaches where sea turtles nest and begin life every year from May to October.
There are seven kinds of sea turtles in the world, loggerheads are the species we predominantly see on Hilton Head Island. Loggerhead sea turtles are reptiles weighing upwards of 350 pounds. Females slowly crawl up our beaches to nest, burying on average 120 eggs in the hopes that at least one will live and be the next generation. It takes an average of 60 days for the eggs to incubate in the nest. Temperature will determine how many males and females are in the nest. The hotter temperatures produce females and cooler temperatures males. Female sea turtles will nest 4-6 times in a season, coming ashore every two weeks with a new clutch of eggs to deposit in the sand. One in 100 hatchlings will make it through the first three days. One in over 1,000 will make it to be a reproductive adult at 25 years of age. The odds are against them and all sea turtles are threatened or endangered. That is why Hilton Head Island takes so many measures to help protect the sea turtles that visit our beach.
The Sea Turtle Protection Program, run through the Coastal Discovery Museum, is made up of a trained, paid staff commonly referred to as the sea turtle patrol. We patrol all 13.5 miles of the beach every morning starting at 5am. We are looking for the tracks of the mother sea turtle to determine if she nested. We then find the eggs and mark off the nest for protection. If, however, the nest is below our high tide line we will move or relocate the nest to higher ground. Once the nest is marked the patrol will keep an eye on it and check it every day once it has reach 45 days of incubation. We are watching for signs that the hatchlings have emerged from the nest. Once we see that the hatchlings have emerged, we wait three days and then dig the nest up to count the hatched and unhatched eggs to see how successful the nest was.
Hilton Head Island is on track for a large if not record breaking year for the total numbers of nests on our beach in one year. We will have well over 300 nests before the season is over.
There are some things that you can do to help protect the sea turtles. First and probably most important is to turn off any lights that can be seen from the beach, inside or out. Hatchlings will go to the brightest light when they emerge from the nest. We want to make sure this is the ocean and not someone’s home. Other things you can do are: pack out what you take to the beach, pick up any trash on the beach or near waterways, fill in your sand holes, and don’t use flashlights on the beach unless they have a red setting.
If you see an adult sea turtle on the beach at night, please give her space and do not take any flash photos or use a flashlight around her. These things can cause her to turn around, leave the beach and not nest. If you see an adult sea turtle during the daytime, please call the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Town of Hilton Head Island, or notify Shore Beach Services.
If you see a hatchling on the beach at any time, please do not touch it or try to take it to the ocean. Please notify Shore Beach Services during the day if the hatchling is not headed toward the water. If the hatchling is headed toward the water, please just let it make its journey to the ocean. You are welcome to watch from a distance as long as you do not block its path to the water, do not take flash photos, or use flashlights around the hatchling.
It is an amazing job to protect an endangered species like the loggerhead sea turtle and we can use all the help we can get to make sure the species will continue to visit the beaches of Hilton Head Island for years to come.