Untamed Lowcountry

Seeing Green: Nests by rare sea turtles discovered on Hilton Head, Hunting Island

A pair of nests belonging to a rare sea turtle species were discovered on Hilton Head and Hunting islands this week as hatching season winds down.

One Hilton Head hatchling was straggling behind after 116 of its siblings hatched earlier this month. It was unmistakably a Green sea turtle hatchling, according to turtle volunteers.

“That hatchling’s appearance was a dead giveaway,” the patrol wrote on Facebook. Green hatchlings are dark green with a white underbelly and are flat on top.

The Green turtle is the second-largest sea turtle species, according to the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. The most recent discovery marks the fifth nest from a Green turtle on Hilton Head Island.

“We’ve never had two green sea turtles on the beach,” marine biologist Amber Kuehn said of Hilton Head.

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

A Green sea turtle hatchling on Hilton Head Island was discovered Sept. 24. It was the fifth ever nest by a Green turtle ever recorded on Hilton Head. Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Patrol Facebook post

Turtle volunteers first noticed the nest in June because it appeared different from the Loggerhead nests around it.

Patrol volunteers noted “that the body pit was ‘large’ and the tracks looked ‘different,’” they wrote on Facebook. “It was suspected that it was a green sea turtle nest, but we could not confirm at that time.”

Loggerhead sea turtles — regulars on Hilton Head Island — are smaller than Green turtles and have an orange tint.

The rare Green turtles were also spotted on another Beaufort County beach this week.

On Tuesday, Hunting Island State Park naturalists reported eight Green sea turtle hatchlings — the first-ever Green hatchlings on the island, according to turtle volunteers.

Those hatchlings, found during a nest inventory that included 125 hatched eggs, were released into the ocean.

“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.

A size chart of the four species of sea turtles at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Sea turtle nests on Hilton Head during Hurricane Dorian

Sea turtle hatching season is nearly over, Kuehn said. There are about 10 nests left to hatch on Hilton Head.

But Hurricane Dorian — which brought heavy rain and winds to Hilton Head Sept. 4 and 5 — affected the nests and the incubating eggs inside.

“We didn’t lose any actual nests,” Kuehn said. “Many of our nests were inundated or covered with sea water. Those eggs were drowned.”

Of the 80 nests on the beach before the storm, she estimates that half “suffered the consequence of the high water,” due to the king tide that peaked right before the storm.

“Even nests that we had relocated to higher locations are inundated,” she said.

The Sea Turtle Patrol will end its regular monitoring of the beaches at the end of September, when hatching season unofficially ends.

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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.