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.
Some island folks consider May the start of the most exciting time to be on Hilton Head
Island. That’s when the water temperature reaches 70° F and the sea turtles, mostly loggerheads,
come ashore to nest and lay their eggs along the island’s 14 miles of beach.
With this official start of the sea turtle season (May-October), every morning dozens of
volunteers under the direction of Amber Kuehn, South Carolina Department of Natural
Resources’ permit holder, will patrol the beaches until the end of the hatching season, which
lasts from July through October.
The sea turtles are federally protected by the Endangered Species Act. With flippers instead of
feet, the sea turtles move gracefully through the water and come ashore only to nest. Their
massive skull and body can weigh up to 400 pounds. Mother turtles will nest an average of four
to six times in one season.
Loggerheads nest at night to avoid overheating in the summer sun, selecting a site above the high
tide line in the dry sand. The Town of Hilton Head protects the loggerheads by requiring
residents along the beach to turn out lights or shield them from the beach from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Artificial lights distract sea turtles.
Each morning during turtle season, the volunteers of the non-profit Sea Turtle Patrol HHI drive
along the island’s beaches, searching for loggerhead tracks and new nests. They are state-
certified to manage and oversee all things sea turtle on Hilton Head.
Each nest location is marked using GPS, with information entered into the SCDNR electronic
data base. Poles and tape are placed around each nest.
A network of Turtle Trackers is also out on the beaches each morning to educate visitors on
beach etiquette for the nesting season and to pick up trash along the way. In the evening, Turtle
Trackers clear debris, fill holes, and flatten the beach to make a clear path for nesting female
loggerheads and their hatchlings. Last year, 291 nests were marked with an estimated 23,700
turtles hatched and returned to the sea.
Beach goers are advised to leave marked nests undisturbed, pick up trash, fill any holes, flatten
sand castles at the end of the day and use red flashlights instead of white.
If you’d like to support the Sea Turtle’s Patrol’s efforts, be sure to complete a Nest Dedication form on the website. 100% of the donation goes to nest monitoring efforts.