‘I can’t believe we’re talking about this:’ Hilton Head leaders agree on new beach rule

When Deborah Urato approached four members of Hilton Head Island Town Council Thursday afternoon, she brought a pile of trash with her.

She showed members of the public planning committee the plastic bags and small beach toys she found on her regular walks.

“I understand these,” she said of the small toys.

“But I don’t understand some of that big stuff,” she said, hoisting a large garden shovel into the air.

The public planning committee unanimously recommended Thursday that the council add garden shovels to the list of prohibited items on Hilton Head’s beaches.

Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Urato — along with dozens of other members of the Turtle Trackers group on Hilton Head — supports that prohibition.

Garden shovels, most commonly defined as large, metal shovels with wooden handles several feet long, are used to dig holes several feet deep on the beach that sea turtle advocates say are dangerous for both wildlife and humans.

Urato said some of the holes she’s seen are deep enough to be graves.

Last week, members of the Turtle Trackers surveyed the beach and reported 54 beach chairs and tents left overnight — and 389 big holes.

A hole on Hilton Head’s beach at sunrise. These types of large holes, if left unfilled, threaten sea turtles that are making their first journey to the ocean. Chris Rush Submitted

These obstacles are harmful to sea turtles, which have just begun to hatch on Hilton Head, because the hatchlings can get tangled in debris or fall into big holes and get trapped on their way to sea, according to Turtle Trackers President Linda Zambelli.

What to do?

Short answer: if you dig a hole, fill it in.

Committee chairman and Ward 3 representative David Ames asked to discuss garden shovels earlier this month. When he added the discussion of shovels to Thursday’s agenda, the room erupted in applause.

Banning garden shovels would “send message not only to residents but to visitors that we care about the environment and wildlife that were so blessed to have,” Ames said Thursday.

The committee voted unanimously to support the ban.

“I join in your opposition to shovels, I can’t believe were talking about this,” said Ward 2 representative Bill Harkins.

The next step is for town staff to define a garden shovel in legal terms and craft an ordinance for the Town Council to consider. The next Hilton Head Island Town Council meeting is July 19.

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