Similar to most mornings, two Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project volunteers were walking down the beach looking for tracks on Tuesday, when they discovered one turtle had made only a single set of tracks overnight.
“That usually indicates the mother is still out there (on the beach),” said Leigh West, who was on patrol with Holly Feltner.
The two volunteers went over the sand dune at the back of the beach near Sonesta Resort and found the nesting female sea turtle lying in the vegetation.
The turtle had walked nearly a mile behind the dune trying to find her way back to the ocean, according to West.
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“(The sea turtle) had extended so much energy walking behind the dune that it didn’t have enough energy to get back into the water,” West said.
The turtle was also missing its left rear flipper, which probably made it difficult to crawl the distance back to the ocean, West said.
With the help of two lifeguards from Hilton Head Island Shore Beach Services, the group was able to release the 400-pound turtle back into the ocean by carrying, pushing and letting it crawl on its own back to the water.
Once they were able to get the turtle to the surf zone, it swam away into the ocean, West said.
According to Amber Kuehn, manager of the Sea Turtle Protection Project, one or two nesting sea turtles get disoriented each season and crawl farther up the beach instead of returning to the ocean.
In 2012, she noted, one sea turtle was found in the swimming pool of Port Royal Plantation, and firefighters had to carry it back to the water.