Not one, but two sea turtle nests were discovered on Hilton Head Island beaches Wednesday morning, the first of the season in southern Beaufort County, according to the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project.
They weren't the first nests in Beaufort County, though. The first discovery on Fripp Island happened Sunday, and another was found earlier this week, according to the Fripp Island Turtle Protection Program.
Members of the Hilton Head protection project have been patrolling the beaches at 5 a.m. each day since May 1 in search of the telltale tracks made by female loggerhead turtles that crawl ashore to lay their eggs, said island project manager Amber Kuehn.
Kuehn said the nesting season is starting a little later than usual, not just on Hilton Head, but statewide. The first nest in the state was recorded on Kiawah Island on May 12. Last year, Hilton Head Island saw its first nest May 8.
"Everyone was just waiting and waiting," Kuehn said. "It's a pretty late start; we're not sure what that will indicate. We just have to wait and see."
According to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, a record number of sea-turtle nests were reported in South Carolina in 2012. The 4,604 nests were the most recorded in the state in the past 30 years, according to DNR's website. Of that number, 544 were counted on Hilton Head, Daufuskie and Fripp islands and at Hunting Island State Park. Hilton Head typically records the most nests in Beaufort County each year.
Hilton Head last shattered its own record in 2011, with 324 nests, Kuehn said.
The nests discovered Wednesday were relocated to higher ground to prevent the eggs from washing out. The nests were marked with signs to indicate that sea turtles are an endangered species and the eggs should not be disturbed.
The eggs will incubate for about 60 days. Kuehn said Hilton Head's light ordinance is now more important than ever. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from May through October, house lights must be out. Flashlights and flash photography are prohibited on the beach during those hours.
Hunting and Harbor islands, where turtle-protection projects are also underway, are still expecting their first nests, according to DNR's website.