For years, I have used a flashlight at night on the beaches of Hilton Head Island. When I don’t, I inevitably step in what, best case scenario, is a dead jellyfish, and worst case scenario ... (nearby dog winks at me).
Not that our beaches are super littered (don’t get me started). I’m just talented at finding the grossest thing to put my foot in when it’s dark.
After dusk, and during tourist season, the shore is often lit by what appear to be fireflies, but are really just other flashlighters. It’s a beautiful sprinkling of floating fairies, each one representing the joy of a visitor or two or four experiencing the wondrous thing that’s only briefly available in their lives, and always in ours.
It makes me appreciate all this so much more.
A nighttime walk on the beach for me, mind you, is usually unintentional. I have overstayed the light, and now I can’t tear myself away.
The beach at night is strange and exciting. It feels far away from everything. It is a sacred space.
But it can seem as vast and unfamiliar as strolling on the moon if I don’t have my phone’s flashlight turned on, especially at low tide.
In the total dark, the roaring ocean makes me more aware of how vulnerable we all are, and alarming sounds suddenly come from all directions. Everything familiar is now hidden, and occasionally the benign can seem sinister, like the cartoon shadow of a nice man presenting like the silhouette of a demon.
Are those shapes sitting on the lifeguard chair aiming muskets at me? I think they might be.
Who’s laughing? Pirate Ghost? I know that’s you.
A flashlight doesn’t just illuminate the immediate surroundings, it’s a navigation light at sea. It says to the other walkers, “You see me, so now you know to leave a very wide berth around me because if you don’t I will assume you are a terrorist.”
It feels safe.
But using flashlights on the beach, as it turns out, isn’t good for sea turtle babies. For the little guys making that mystical trek from their nests on land to the Land of Possibility in the Gulf Stream.
It is a statistically unfavorable journey and a cruel fight against a world that finds them soft and delicious.
And so many people here in the Lowcountry work really hard to increase their chances of survival during the first leg of the trip, the leg that is our responsibility.
So I can’t believe I never thought about the sea turtles. Instead, I have been marveling at the human prettiness of all the flashlights.
Hatchlings head toward the brightest light. Duh.
The brightest light to them is supposed to be the moon, but our flashlights have basically made us Pied Pipers of death, possibly forcing adorable sea turtles with hopes and dreams of their own to march behind us and listen to our chatter about how disappointing life is because Marshalls no longer carries our favorite perfume.
“Marshalls? I don’t think this is right,” the second turtle in line says to the first.
“No, no. Our instructions were to follow the moon,” No. 1 yells back. “The moooooon.”
“Yeah. I got that. But you know we only have one chance to get this right, yes? We will die if you have wasted one second of our time on the wrong path here.”
“God. You are so annoying. Wait. Stop, everyone. The moon needs a minute to text her friends to tell them she’s still at the beach. This is, um, total moon protocol.”
Flashlighters are not monsters. We simply didn’t know. We simply didn’t think.
Beachfront homeowners, however, have been on notice for years that if they don’t shut off their lights at night there’s a real possibility they will find baby sea turtles in their pools, and they will have to face the gruesome fact that they messed it all up.
That can’t feel great.
The bright side of all this, though, is that sea turtles have been nesting in record numbers on Hilton Head again this season, which means we can probably still just use our flashlights instead of having to walk blindly on the old moonscape, you know what I’m saying? What’s a sea turtle here or there? I won’t tell if you don’t.
No! Gosh ... I hope you didn’t believe that.
Amber Keuhn, Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project manager, says night-walkers should use red LED flashlights instead of the light on their phones.
And I love any old excuse to shop Amazon Prime.
So I am now the proud owner of a WAYLLSHINE Zoomable Scalable CREE LED 3 Mode 200 Lumen 150 Yard Long Range Red Light Flashlight Red Hunting Light Tactical Flashlight Red Light Torch For Fishing Hunting and Detector.
(With a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.)
My new 29-word flashlight means I can keep the sea turtles going in the right direction without having to feel like I’m walking on the moon.
Because it will now look like I’m walking on Mars.