1 in 100 hatchling sea turtles leaving Hilton Head Beach will survive 3 days. It is critical to get as many hatchlings into the surf as possible so that the lucky one can get past the predators. Sea Turtle Patrol HHI aims to prevent the misorientation of hatchlings by educating residents and visitors about the consequences of artificial light visible from the beach. Hatchlings use vision to find the open horizon over the ocean where the moon reflects on the water. Naturally, this would be the brightest light. Thousands of hatchlings will not reach the water each season due to lights visible from the beach that are left on after 10pm.
sea turtle facts
● Adult females do not begin laying eggs until they are about 30 years old.
● Females will not return to land from the time they hatch until they are ready to nest. (Males will not return to land their entire life.)
● Females return to the same general beach region where they hatched.
● Nesting season may begin after the water temperature reaches 70 degrees (late April/early May).
● Mothers typically nest at night, selecting a site in the dunes, hopefully well above the high tide line. They dig a deep hole with their back flippers using alternating strokes and deposit about 120 ping-pong ball size eggs; then cover the nest with sand to hide it from predators.
● Nesting is generally in three-year cycles, and females lay multiple clutches 3 to 6 times each nesting season. During nesting season, cycles of egg laying occur about 2 weeks apart.
● Early each morning during nesting season, the Sea Turtle Patrol HHI will drive a 14 mile stretch of beach looking for mother turtle tracks from the night before. Upon finding tracks, they use a probe to locate the nest. Next, they mark the nest with 3 poles and tag it with a nest number and enter it in the SCDNR electronic database.
● If a turtle lays a nest in a vulnerable location, the Turtle Patrol will transfer that nest to a safer location by hand, but they must move nests within 24 hours of being laid. After 24 hours, each embryo has attached to its shell wall and handling/moving that egg would disrupt development.
IMPORTANT: Following a nesting female with a white flashlight as she makes her way up the beach and/or making loud noises or getting too close will disorient and interrupt her nesting intention. Then it is likely she will return to the ocean without laying her eggs. When a sea turtle crawls ashore and doesn’t lay eggs, scientists call this a “false crawl”.
● Incubation period is about 60 days, depending on the sand temperature in the nest.
● Nest temperature determines a hatchling’s sex: eggs nesting at temperatures above 84.2 Fahrenheit will be female, cooler will be males. A trick to help remember is “Hot chicks/Cool dudes”.
● Dangers to nests include raccoons, coyotes, dogs off leash, ghost crabs, and tidal washes.
● When the time is right, the hatchlings break through their shell. It can take 2-3 days for the hatchlings to wiggle and dig towards the surface, which often causes a bowling ball size depression in the sand.
● Hatchlings will wait for a drop in temperature before emerging from the nest (a boil), which hopefully occurs at night, but boils can happen during the day if clouds/rainstorm cool the air.
● A hatchling’s instinct will direct it toward the ocean and then to the Gulf Stream, a 3-day (70 mile) swim. Hatchlings in Florida swim less than 1 day to the Gulf Stream (a mere 5 miles).
● The hatchlings have just enough energy to cross the beach and swim to the Gulf Stream. Any distraction or obstacle that wastes this energy will probably spell doom. An additional threat is that hatchlings are food to a wide variety of fish, birds and crabs.
● Hatchlings’ internal GPS sets itself when they tumble in the waves, enabling them to return later to their birthplace, navigating the open ocean by the earth’s magnetic field.
● One hatchling in a hundred (estimated) actually reaches the Gulf Stream from Hilton Head.
WHAT DO ADULT LOGGERHEADS EAT?
Because of their powerful crushing jaws, they prefer crunchy sea life like whelk, horseshoe crabs, blue crabs and various other mollusks and crustaceans. However, they also enjoy squishy snacks like jellyfish, sea squirts and sea cucumbers.
WHERE DO LOGGERHEADS LIVE?
Atlantic loggerheads stay in the Atlantic, but this species can be found worldwide.
HOW LONG DO LOGGERHEADS LIVE?
● It is possible for a loggerhead to live to be 90, but we say with confidence that they live over 100 years. As with all reptiles, they will continue to grow their entire lives, although much more slowly as they age.
● An adult can grow up to 4 feet long and can weigh up to 400 pounds.
WHAT DANGERS DO LOGGERHEADS FACE?
● Boat propeller strikes, excess fishing line and other debris that can entangle and cause drowning, swallowed fishing hooks, fish net entrapment (shrimp trawlers must now use turtle excluders that allow the turtle to escape from the net), plastics (bags and bottles) mistaken for food and loss of nesting habitat (storm damage, concrete retaining walls, etc.).
● Some countries still allow loggerheads or their eggs to be harvested for food.
● The only natural predator to an adult loggerhead is a shark.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
● Turn beachfront lights OFF after dark. Sea turtles are phototactic, which means light attracts them. Hatchlings will move toward the brightest light source, traditionally moonlight and stars reflecting off of water to move toward the ocean.
● Use only a red beamed light when walking on the beach at night, as white light is distracting and disorienting.
● Flatten sand castles, fill holes and remove any obstacles on the beach at the end of each day.
● Observe a nesting turtle from a distance.
● Touching a nest or hatchling is against federal law, even if hatchling is in distress or not crawling toward the ocean.
● Injured Turtles — Amber Kuehn, Sea Turtle Patrol HHI 843-338-2716
● Turtle Code Enforcement Issues (lighting or other situations) — Town of HH 843-341-4643
● Deceased Adult Turtle (not hatchlings) — SCDNR 1-800-922-5431