Untamed Lowcountry

New girl in town: Rare third sea turtle species nests on Hilton Head

Types of sea turtles that nest in South Carolina

There are four types of sea turtles that are known to nest in our state: the loggerhead, the green, the leatherback and the Kemp's ridley.
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There are four types of sea turtles that are known to nest in our state: the loggerhead, the green, the leatherback and the Kemp's ridley.

Hilton Head Island’s beaches are now home to three species of sea turtle babies.

A Green sea turtle nested on Hilton Head for the fourth time ever Wednesday morning, according to the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Patrol. Marine biologist and head of the patrol Amber Keuhn said volunteers came across the turtle as it was heading toward the surf this morning.

The Green turtle is the second-largest sea turtle species, according to the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. The shell of the one on Hilton Head measured about 4 feet long and 3 1/2 feet wide, Keuhn said.

A Green turtle is “easily recognizable” to Keuhn, who said they mostly nest in Florida.

Loggerhead sea turtles — regulars on Hilton Head Island — are smaller than Green turtles and have an orange tint. Green turtles tend to have a darker green tint and smaller heads, Keuhn said.

“It’s really exciting to see her,” Keuhn said. “She did a lot of crawling to figure out what spot would be appropriate ... she had some trouble finding her way, but she did make it back to the water.”

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Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Hilton Head had a Green turtle nest last year, though a different turtle from the one that appeared on the beach Wednesday.

“Green turtles nest at intervals of about every two years, with wide year-to-year fluctuations in numbers of nesting females,” according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

The turtle’s clutch of eggs will incubate for 60 days like all other species, and the island can expect to see Green turtle hatchlings shuffling toward the surf in early September.

This week the turtle patrol also counted the hatched eggs of the first nester of the season — The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The nest had 120 eggs in total, and all but six eggs hatched.

Sea turtle nesting season reminders

The Green turtle’s journey comes on one of the busiest weeks of the year for humans and turtles on Hilton Head Island. As of this week there are over 350 sea turtle nests on Hilton Head Island, and several nests have begun to hatch.

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Amber Kuehn 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.

Remove large tents and fill in holes before you leave the beach.

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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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