Sea Turtles are a huge part of Hilton Head Island's eco-system. They are a protected species all over the world, and Hilton Head Island takes special measures to help keep them safe. Since they are endangered, the fact that they choose Hilton Head Island for their nesting ground is a huge honor! We have mostly Loggerhead turtles, however we have had a few Leatherback turtle nests in the past as well.
All sea turtles are reptiles. This means they are cold blooded and they lay eggs. Their egg laying practices are what they are best known for on our beaches! Usually from May to late June/early July, the mother sea turtle comes to shore to lay her eggs. Each nest holds approximately 120 eggs! This almost always happens at night, so you're not likely to see this spectacular occurrence during one of your beach days. Once the eggs have been laid, people who are hired specifically to track the turtles go out and mark the nests. These nests are not only marked, but they are logged. This means that the date they have been laid is recorded, and 60 days after they have been laid the nest is marked with a green string which means it should hatch any day. Once the nest has hatched, the markers are taken back down.
When the baby turtles emerge from the sand, this also happens usually at night time. They have strong instincts to walk towards the moon and the reflection on the water. They know that this eventually leads them to the ocean, which since they are aquatic reptiles and spend the majority of their time in the water except when they come to land to lay their eggs, this is where they will spend the rest of their lives. Interference with the moonlight can be detrimental to these new babies and could lead to their ultimate death. Things such as leaving your lights on in your oceanfront rental at night is enough to confuse them and lead them inland. They are not made to survive on land so if they get lost and can't find the ocean, they won't survive very long.
Once in the ocean, they can live to be 47-67 years old! They eat shellfish, crabs, and whelks. With a serrated beak, and a powerful jaw they can break into almost any type of shellfish. That's not all they eat, though! They also eat jellyfish. Imagine being a hungry sea turtle on the hunt when you suddenly see a jellyfish and gulp it down only to realize it was a plastic bag! Sea turtles don't have the best vision, so this can be a common mistake. Our job as beachgoers is to make sure we don't litter the beaches and it is also our duty to clean up after those who have littered to help prevent things like this from happening.
Things you can do to help:
- Remove beach litter and don't litter yourself!
- Observe turtles from a distance - they can be easily stressed out if you (scary, big alien creature) goes over to them and touches or even tries to hold them - not to mention, it's against the law!
- Do NOT harass a turtle - it may be tempting to hug a turtle when you see one, but you have to resist for the turtle's sake. What you see as a hug or affectionate behavior, the turtle sees as a major threat to it's survival.
- Leave nest sites alone
- Keep your dogs on a leash especially around turtle nests - it is too often that people don't control their dogs on the beach and how exciting is it for Fido to dig up a fun turtle smell? Keeping them leashed is the best way to ensure the baby turtles continue to grow safely in their eggs. It is also against the law to not have control of your dog on the beach.
- Report injured turtles - you should report any injured turtles to the number below so they have a fair chance of having professionals rescue them and potentially be released back into the wild with a fighting chance!
- Lights out! - if you're renting an oceanfront house or rental, turn your lights off between the hours of 10pm and 6am to help the babies avoid confusion. Also, if you do see anyone with their lights on between these hours, report the violation to the number below.
To report a dead or injured turtle call: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (24/7): 1-800-922-5431
To report light violations call: 843-341-4642