If you are walking Hilton Head Island’s beaches after sun down make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some visitors. Many sea turtles have called Hilton Head Island home for their nest for several years. The most common species the Loggerhead with other species also visiting on a regular basis. On average Hilton Head Island sees roughly 250 nest a year with this year showing a total of 344. Nesting season runs between May and October annually. Hilton Head Island is the largest barrier island on the South Carolina Coast. Due to this it makes for a perfect nesting ground on the island’s 18.5 km of beach front. Amazingly nesting sea turtles return to the same stretch of beach each and every year. Some traveling very long distances to do so. It is also believed that a large percentage of surviving hatchlings will also return to the beach that they have grown to maturity and are prepared to nest. While still under study, researchers now believe that turtles use their ability to navigate both intensity and angle to determine latitude and longitude enabling them to navigate back to the same beach annually.
One major issue with any area including Hilton Head regarding turtle nesting is lighting. Hilton Head Island like other popular beach destinations is populated with residential and commercial areas on the beach. The lighting from these structures can be a potential danger for any sea turtle as well as the hatchlings once they are born. Nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings are photo-tactic which means they are attracted to light. Due to this the are guided by the moon reflected on the ocean which should be the brightest light which will lead the nesting turtle back safely to the ocean after nesting and finally will guide new hatchlings to the sea. Due to this between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am you will find areas closer to the beach to be very dark. Special lighting is used in commercial areas and residents are asked to darken their homes. Resorts such as the Marriott Grande Ocean for example use special lighting that has been approved by the city. It is also suggested not to use a flashlight should you walk the beach at night during nesting and hatching season. Most cell phones are now equipped with a red light which is preferred.
Turtle Trackers on Hilton Head Island founded in 1985 is a volunteer non for profit organization that protects nesting sites and hatchlings. They are responsible for marking new nesting sites and reporting data to the national sea turtle monitoring system. They are always happy to share information and educate visitors regarding the nesting season. To learn more about their organization please visit their website at www.tutletrackershhi.org. Lots of visitors are always asking how they can help and there are a few easy things that beach visitors can do. Make sure to clean up after yourself when you are done with your beach day by safety throwing away trash or packing up beach toys. Filling in any holes created by play or by tents or umbrellas is also very helpful as these holes create a arduous journey for hatchlings as they try to make their way to the ocean upon hatching. Last but not least, close your ocean front resort villa or room currents between the hours of 10:00pm-6:00am. These little things can really make a difference and by doing them you are helping the sea turtle population thrive along the South Carolina coast.