Untamed Lowcountry

Hilton Head sea turtles struggled to survive last year. These 5 things will help this season

After experiencing a tough year for Loggerhead sea turtles on Hilton Head Island, a new nesting season is upon us.

Beginning the first or second week of May, hundreds of female sea turtles will emerge from the ocean at night and lay an average of about 120 eggs per nest.

About 60 days later, hatchlings will emerge from their nests at night and head to the ocean. Nests typically hatch from July through the end of October.

During the 2017 season, 326 nests were laid on Hilton Head Island beaches— more than 20 percent less than the 2016 season.

A higher than average number of nests were lost to poaching, human interaction and misorientation— where hatchlings most likely confused artificial light for the moon and were therefore guided them away from the ocean instead of toward it.

While Loggerheads are listed as a threatened species by both the federal government and the state of South Carolina, there are many ways you can help promote their survival on all Beaufort County beaches.

Here are 5 things you can do to ensure the 2018 nesting season is safer and more successful than the last:

1. Turn off lights if you're near the beach. And no flashlights!

After the young turtles hatch, they navigate to the ocean by following the slope of the beach and skylight reflected off the ocean’s surface. Lights that are brighter than this natural light, such as a flashlight, disorient the hatchlings and cause them to move inland, where they often die of dehydration, drown in pools or get hit by a car. So, don’t use flashlights, flash photography or cell phone lights on the beach at night. You can, however, use a special red flashlight.

If your house is visible from the beach, turn off your outdoor lights by 10 p.m. from May until the end of October. If any of your interior lights are also visible from the beach or cast light on the beach, close your blinds or drapes at 10 p.m. or turn them off.

2. Keep beaches clean and litter-free.

Pick up and throw away your trash in the proper garbage cans and remove your belongings for the beach each day. Never leave beach umbrellas, tents, chairs or any other beach accessories on the beach overnight. Nesting female turtles may get tangled in them and they can often disorient the hatchlings.

3. Fill in holes and knock down sand castles.

If you (or your kids) are digging holes in the beach or building a sand castle, return the sand to its flat state before leaving the beach. Hatchlings can fall into the holes or get stuck in the sand castles and die.

4. Leave sea turtles nests alone.

In order not to disrupt the nesting process, respect sea turtles by observing them from a distance on the beach. Do not touch or remove any eggs from their nests.

Feeding or touching turtles in any way—including shining a light on them—is considered a disturbance and is illegal. Federal penalties can include large fines up to $15,000 and jail time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's General Counsel.

5. Report sea turtles to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

To report dead or injured sea turtles and nest disturbances to call 1-800-922-5431. Report sightings of live, healthy turtles here.