Untamed Lowcountry

More turtles than we’ve ever seen: Hilton Head sets record for sea turtle nests

The real estate market on Hilton Head Island is booming — especially if you’re a sea turtle.

Hilton Head has recorded the highest number of sea turtle nests in the history of the island as of Tuesday, with 461 nests, according to the Town of Hilton Head Island.

In previous years, the island has been home to an average of 250 sea turtle nests each year, according to the nest tracking system.

“The entire east coast, in fact, is experiencing a high nest year. Much of this increase in nesting may be due to the conservation efforts, by both scientists and our citizens, of the 1970s through 1980s,” the town posted on Facebook.

Local conservation efforts are in full swing this summer. Sea turtle activists have flooded public meetings to advocate for stricter lighting rules for beachfront properties and discussing the problems with beach tents left up overnight, hotel towels piling up and large holes on the beach.

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A beach tent, like this one left overnight on Hilton Head Island, can be frightening to sea turtles looking for a place to lay their eggs onshore. This one appears to have caused a sea turtle to abandon its mission to lay her eggs on the shore. Town of Hilton Head Island Facebook

Although no new beach rules will be passed this summer, town leaders said they expect to tighten up what’s allowed on Hilton Head’s beaches and put an enforcement system in place by 2020.

Most of this year’s nests belong to Loggerhead sea turtles, which are familiar to the island. But two rare species have also made Hilton Head their home.

The first nest of the year belonged to a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle — the rarest species in the world. On April 26, the turtle came ashore to nest, and her eggs hatched on June 27.

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A baby Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the world’s rarest sea turtle 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

The Kemp’s Ridley turtle usually weighs between 150 and 200 pounds, and there are only about 7,000 to 9,000 nesting females worldwide, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

A Green turtle, the second-largest sea turtle species, also nested on Hilton Head this year. They typically nest in Florida, and have a darker green tint shell and smaller heads, according to marine biologist Amber Kuehn.

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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.