Lights Out for Sea Turtles

Tiny green and brown sea turtle moving along wet sand on the beach.

Hilton Head’s loggerheads are listed as a threatened species by both the federal government and by the state of South Carolina. Record number of sea turtles are expected on Hilton Head this year. Last week, Hilton Head Sea Turtle Patrol marked its 250th sea turtle nest on our shores–they are expecting over 500 for the season.

Sea turtle with gray shell on the beach moving toward the water.

As the young begin to hatch, they dig towards the surface, and emerge when the sand temperatures cool and daylight fades. They navigate to the ocean by following the downward slope of the beach and the skylight reflected off the ocean’s surface. Lights from the land that are brighter than this natural ocean light disorient the hatchlings and cause them to move inland, where they often die from dehydration and exhaustion, drown in pools, are hit by cars, or are taken by predators. There are many things both residents and visitors can do to promote the survival of these loggerheads:

  • If your building is visible from the beach, turn off your outside lights at 10 p.m. from 1 May – 31 October, the nesting and hatching season for loggerheads.
  • If any of your interior lights are visible from the beach or cast light on the beach, close blinds or drapes at 10 pm or turn them off completely.
  • Never leave beach umbrellas, chairs, or any other beach accessories on the beach overnight. Nesting female turtles may get tangled in them, and for hatchlings they are often impassable and disorienting.
  • If you are digging holes in the beach or building sand castles, please return the sand to its undisturbed state before leaving the beach. Both of these things can be death traps for hatchlings that stumble into them. Place all trash and recyclables in the appropriate receptacles.
  • Never disturb a sea turtle nest, a nesting sea turtle or a hatchling.


For more information and news about this amazing Hilton Head Island species, please visit these sites: