Untamed Lowcountry

First timers: World’s rarest sea turtles hatched Thursday on Hilton Head

Rare Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nest on Hilton Head marks island’s first nest of season

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nested on a Hilton Head Island, S.C., beach on April 26 — marking not only the first nest of the 2019 season, but the first nest ever laid by the rare sea turtle species on the island.
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A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nested on a Hilton Head Island, S.C., beach on April 26 — marking not only the first nest of the 2019 season, but the first nest ever laid by the rare sea turtle species on the island.

A tiny sea turtle hatched Thursday morning on Hilton Head Island and scrambled its way to sea. It happens so often on Hilton Head’s beaches that beachgoers may step over turtle tracks without recognizing them.

But the tracks left Thursday morning belonged to the world’s rarest sea turtle species.

The Kemp’s Ridley hatchlings left their nest as the sun was coming up on Hilton Head. They had incubated almost exactly 60 days.

The nest they called home was also historic — it was the island’s first nest laid this year and the first-ever Kemp’s Ridley nest.

There have been only four recorded nestings of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in South Carolina, according to marine biologist Amber Kuehn.

The Kemp’s Ridley turtle is most endangered of the seven species of sea turtles, and as an adult usually weighs between 150 and 200 pounds.

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A baby Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the world’s rarest species, hatched and made its way to the ocean June 27. The Kemp’s Ridley nest was the first on Hilton Head of the 2019 season. Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island Special to The Island Packet

Kuehn said Thursday she doesn’t know how many hatchlings there were yet. Because eggs tend to hatch over a three-day period, the Sea Turtle Patrol waits three days to go in and count the hatched and unhatched eggs in sea turtle nests.

There are only about 7,000 to 9,000 nesting females worldwide, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The Kemp’s Ridley turtle is significantly smaller than the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, which is a regular on Hilton Head’s beaches and weighs about 350 pounds.

Sea turtle nesting season reminders

As of this week there are over 300 sea turtle nests on Hilton Head Island, according to the turtle patrol.

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Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island Special to The Island Packet

In an April news release, SCDNR recommended ways to protect sea turtles:

  • Report all sick, injured or dead sea turtles and nest disturbances to the SCDNR at 1-800-922-5431 so staff and volunteers can respond as soon as possible.
  • Respect boating laws, especially in small tidal creeks where sea turtles like to feed. Boat strikes are the leading cause of death for sea turtles in South Carolina.
  • Keep artificial lights off the beach at night during nesting season. They can disorient nesting mothers and hatchlings.
  • Always respect sea turtles on the beach by observing them from a distance.
  • Keep beaches and the ocean clean. Plastic bags and balloons are among the most common trash items found on South Carolina beaches and can cause injury or death when sea turtles mistake them for food.

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A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle makes her way back to the water after she nests on Hilton Head Island on April 26, 2019. Melissa Krauss Released

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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.
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