Untamed Lowcountry

Hilton Head hits record 250 sea turtle nests as ‘strawless summer’ begins again

It’s shaping up to be a historic summer on Hilton Head Island if you’re talking about sea turtles.

Hilton Head Sea Turtle Patrol announced Monday morning that the group had marked the 250th nest on the island’s beaches — just over half the total number of nests in 2018.

The group estimated there are about 25,000 sea turtle eggs currently incubating around the island, and nesting season is generally May through October.

One of the 250 nests belongs to the world’s rarest species of sea turtle: the Kemp’s Ridley. She started the season out on a historical note — creating the first nest of the year and the first ever Kemp’s Ridley nest on Hilton Head.

As nesting season continues and sea turtle clutches of eggs begin their 60-day incubation period, efforts around the island are ramping up to protect the turtles before they’re hatched and after they make their way to sea.

Strawless summer

The Palmetto Ocean Conservancy is once again launching the “strawless summer” campaign, according to group coordinator Michelle Meissen.

The movement encourages local businesses to ditch plastic straws in order to keep them out of the local waterways where they can threaten wildlife.

This year’s ”strawless summer” begins on July 1, Meissen said.

In a Facebook post from the ocean conservancy, Meissen said last year’s strawless summer was a “huge success.”

New trash control

The Town of Hilton Head Island 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.

Wooden trash corrals at sunrise on Folly Field Beach on Hilton Head Island. The corral project was presented by three fifth grade students at a December 2018 Town Council meeting to help protect beach wildlife. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

The first wave of corrals — part of a $125,000 plan to put them at every beach park — are not any bigger than the old plastic bins, but are designed to stop the cans from blowing over and spreading trash.

New lighting standards

In early June, Town Council members on 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.

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

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

At that meeting, committee chairman David Ames suggested the new beach rules go further and ban large garden shovels that are used to dig big holes on the beach.

Large holes left unfilled can trap small sea turtles making their way to sea, advocates say.

The public planning committee made a recommendation that staff look into how large shovels could be banned.

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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.