Hole-y moly! Hilton Head could ban shovels on the beach to protect sea turtles

Shovels bigger than 14 inches soon may be illegal on the beaches of Hilton Head Island. Ditto for digging holes wider and deeper than a foot. Both are dangerous for sea turtles and beachgoers. A plethora of large shovels and deep holes this summer prompted town officials last week to recommend banning them.

At a Town of Hilton Head Island public planning meeting Thursday, committee members unanimously supported an ordinance that bans large shovels and unfilled holes on the beach. The five-person committee sent it to Hilton Head Island Town Council and recommends approval.

The ordinance is specific about what it will ban: Shovels larger than 14 inches and holes bigger than 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide.

Those items will be added to the list of prohibited activities on the beach, and require that all holes be filled in with sand by 30 minutes prior to sunset.

The shovels and holes ordinance will go to the full council Sept. 17 for consideration.

One of the two popular sand shovels available for purchase in the Hilton Head Island area could be banned by next year if the Hilton Head Island Town Council passes an ordinance that has garnered support from the public planning committee and local sea turtle activists. Shovels over 14 inches long, such as the yellow one, would be prohibited on the beach. Candy Hatcher The Island Packet

Council members spoke highly of the proposed rule and the nearly 50 beach volunteers in the audience.

“I really like being on a winning team, and I think we have one here,” he said. “I’m proud of the passion and commitment of the turtle trackers.”

The Hilton Head Island Turtle Trackers are a volunteer group that sweeps the beach each night to pick up trash and fill in holes — things that could potentially trap tiny sea turtles after they hatch in the dunes and make their way to sea.

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

How do you get people to follow the rules?

This summer’s discussion about beach laws hasn’t come without recurring challenges. Town leaders have often wondered how to enforce beach laws.

The town’s code two enforcement officers and Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputies can give tickets for breaking beach laws, but with the island’s 12 miles of beach, turtle trackers say enforcement can be scarce.

Deborah Urato hoists a garden shovel into the air in front of the public planning committee on June 27. Urato is a member of the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head Island, a group that wants to ban garden shovels used to dig big holes on the beach. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Town staff pulled information from Kiawah Island and Folly Beach to draft the ordinance, town senior planner Anne Cyran said Thursday. Cyran said naturalists enforce the rules on Kiawah, and the fire department enforces rules on Myrtle Beach.

But on Hilton Head, some leaders worry that people don’t notice the town’s rules signs on the beach.

“40 lines of text on the town signs? I don’t think people are going to read it in that format,” Ward 6 representative Glenn Stanford said at a July 25 public planning committee meeting.

Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Patsy Brison, a South Forest Beach resident, suggested redesigning beach signs and employing summer interns in an ecotourism program to educate beachgoers on the local rules.

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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.