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Lights Out for Sea Turtles on the SC Coast on Hilton Head Island

Sea Turtle Sign

You’ve probably heard that Hilton Head Island is one of the SC beaches where the Loggerhead Sea Turtles lay their eggs. You may have even heard that during season, the beaches need to be dark for the safety of the turtles. But do you really know how you can make a difference and do your part to help save these endangered sea turtles? Let’s start with the basics: The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is the state reptile of South Carolina and the most common sea turtle nester along our shores. They are easily recognizable by the large size of their head in relation to their body and their brownish or yellow skin. They are listed as a threatened species by both the federal government and the state of South Carolina.

Sea Turtle Season begins in early May and runs through October. During this time, we are fortunate to have the Loggerhead Sea Turtles laying eggs and nesting on the Hilton Head beaches. The females usually emerge to nest at night and lay an average of 120 eggs per nest. After they locate an appropriate nest site, she lays the eggs then returns to the sea.

The eggs incubate for 50-60 days and when the young begin to hatch, they dig towards the surface and emerge when the sand temperatures cool and daylight fades. They find their way to the ocean by following the downward slope of the beach and skylight reflected off the ocean’s surface. Because lights form beach houses are brighter than this natural light, they become disoriented and move inland towards the house lights instead of the ocean, where they unfortunately often die from dehydration and exhaustion, drown in pools, are hit by cars, or are taken by predators.

There are actually teams, directed by the Department of Natural Resources, who canvas the beaches looking for signs of turtle nesting who monitor those nests to ensure their safety and help guide the turtles to the ocean, but her are a few things you can do to help:

TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF – Keep our beaches dark for the turtles. Beaufort County lighting ordinance states that there shall be no visible light on our beaches May through October for our turtles. This includes house and porch lighting as well as no flashlights on the beach. Lights disturb our nesting turtles and may be deadly to our hatchlings trying to find the ocean

REMOVE ALL ITEMS FROM BEACH –Please be sure to remove all items from the beach that you bring with you. Items left on the beach may cause problems for our turtles trying to find a spot to nest or they may get tangles in them and for hatchlings they are often impassable and disorienting.

FILL IN HOLES – If you dig holes in the beach or build sand castles, please fill in all holes above the high tide line. Turtles may become trapped in these and may prove as deadly traps for hatchlings trying to find the ocean.

PICK UP TRASH –Sea turtles as well as many other ocean animals may become very ill or die from ingesting plastics and other debris. Please be considerate.

DO NOT WALK IN TURTLE TRACKS – If you come upon turtle tracks on the beach early in the morning or late in the evening, it is very important that you do NOT walk in these. The Turtle Team uses these tracks as well as other field signs to locate the eggs. If the tracks and other nesting signs have been trampled, it makes it far more difficult to find the nest. Once the Turtle Team has investigated a crawl in the morning, large “X” marks are placed on the crawl so they know it is an old crawl the next day.

Never disturb a sea turtle nest, a nesting sea turtle or a hatchling. To report any of these please call SC Department of Natural Resources Hotline: 1-800-922-5431 day or night and weekends or Town of Hilton Head Island: 843-341-4690 weekdays.

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