A spot on the beach or the sea turtles? Hilton Head officials take on overnight tents

The Town of Hilton Head Island posted a familiar image on Facebook Tuesday afternoon: a tent with beach chairs stacked underneath left overnight so the family could enjoy the beach the following day.

But the image showed something else the beachgoers may not have considered.

Sea turtle tracks appear to head toward the dune and then turn away at the sight of the tent in the sand.

The town shared the image with the following caption, “Leaving canopies, tents, chairs or any beach gear on the beach overnight can cause a nester to abort her efforts and return to the sea (as can be seen from the turtle’s track in this photo). PLEASE be considerate of our wildlife and PACK OUT anything you bring to the beach when you leave!”

Sea turtles lay new “clutches” of eggs every two weeks, and they only have a window of a few days to do so, according to marine biologist Amber Kuehn.

This beach tent was left up overnight on Hilton Head Island. The tents can deter sea turtles looking for a place to lay their eggs onshore. Corinne Steinbauer Special to The Island Packet

“If there are too many obstacles, they’ll just drop (the eggs) in the water,” she said Wednesday. “Essentially the turtle comes out in the dark, it hits the tent, it’s frightened, and it leaves.”

Sea turtles attempt to lay their eggs several times, Kuehn said, but the exact number of attempts depends on the turtle.

Hilton Head is home to 134 sea turtle nests as of June 4, which town officials say is well ahead of a typical pace. Other years have seen an average of 411 nests per season.

Nesting season is generally May through October.

New Hilton Head beach rules

The post about overnight tents comes as sea turtle advocates ask the town for stricter rules on lighting, garden shovels used to dig large holes and litter on the beach.

Last week, the public planning committee heard potential changes to the sea turtle beach lighting standards which would require the first-floor windows of beachfront homes to have shades or tinting to prevent lighting from harming turtles.

The current ordinance requires this type of shading on all floors above the first.

The town also unveiled wooden trash corrals at some beaches across the island in response to a request by fifth-grade students at Hilton Head Elementary School in December that beach trash be better contained to protect wildlife.

Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

At Tuesday’s Hilton Head Town Council Meeting, Ward 4 representative Tamara Becker said students Rosa Olivetti, Joshua Prada and Ethan Simpson deserve “all the credit” for making the beaches cleaner with their project.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.