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8 Jul 2022
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Outdoors and Nature

Everything You Need To Know About The Sea Turtles Nesting At Hilton Head Island

If you've ever looked out at Hilton Head Island's 12 miles of coastline and thought, "these beaches are something special," then you're right in more ways than you think. In addition to their astonishing beauty, Hilton Head's beaches are nesting grounds for several sea turtle species.

The adult sea turtles on Hilton Head Island are magnificent to behold, and their turtle hatchings are about the most adorable little things ever. Although it's wonderful to see both the adult and hatchling turtles, remember that they aren't pets or zoo exhibits. Human activity can put these wonderful creatures at risk, so it's important to keep your distance and respect the turtles in their natural habitat.

To help you follow the best practices about viewing and protecting these animals, here is everything you need know about Hilton Head sea turtles.

Loggerhead And Other Turtle Species

The Loggerhead Sea Turtle is South Carolina's state reptile and the most common species of sea turtle that nests on Hilton Head Island. Loggerheads grow up to four feet long and 400 pounds, and the tops of their shells (the carapace) have a distinct reddish brown color. These carnivorous turtles are large, strong, and perfectly adapted for life at sea.

Other sea turtle species that sometimes swim and nest at Hilton Head are Leatherbacks, Green sea turtles, and Kemp's Ridley turtles. Leatherbacks boast the title of world's largest turtles and typically weigh between 800-1200 pounds. Green sea turtles are some of the most common sea turtles in the world, and they are similar in appearance to Loggerheads. Lastly, the Kemp Ridley turtles are the rarest sea turtles in the world and the smallest that visit Hilton Head Island.

Unfortunately, all four of these species are listed as endangered due to both natural and human impacts. Destruction of habitat, commercial fishing, pollution and other factors all pose threats to Hilton Head's sea turtles. For these reasons and more, it's essential to stay educate on how to best protect and conserve these species.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season At Hilton Head

The Hilton Head turtle nesting season runs from May through October when the water temperatures reach around 70°F. The female sea turtles emerge from the sea onto the beaches, scoot above the tide line, make their nests, and then lay an average of 120 eggs. Mother turtles will typically do this nesting routine between two and eight times during a nesting season.

After approximately 60 days of incubation under the sand, the sea turtle hatchlings will break dig their way out of the nest and scamper to the sea. The turtle hatchlings will almost always hatch at night when conditions are cooler and fewer predators are around. Bright moonlight above guides them from the nest on-shore to the waiting ocean waters.

Typically, female turtles take a break of a couple years or more between nesting seasons. However, one ambitious Hilton Head turtle, Myrtle, has nested on the island every year since 2011. Myrtle also laid a grand total of eight nests back in 2017, which is the highest documented amount of nests in a year on Hilton Head Island. If you don't see Myrtle in person, you can find a vibrant statue of her at the Beach House Tiki Bar near Coligny Beach.

Viewing And Protecting Hilton Head Sea Turtles

Since you're reading this and perhaps planning a stay at Hilton Head Island during nesting season, you probably need some sea-turtle-viewing tips. The one and only tip for how to see Hilton Head sea turtles is to plan on taking many trips to the beach. The turtles are on their own schedule, so there's a little bit of luck in seeing them emerge in-person. Fortunately, beach strolls on the island are lovely with or without the turtles, and you're sure to at least see the many marked nests along the shoreline.

If you do see sea turtle mothers or hatchlings while out and about on the beach, there are a couple rules to remember for safe viewing. The most important thing to do is to keep your distance and view from afar. Nesting mothers can be easily spooked by human activity and will return to the water without laying their eggs. Plan on bringing binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to get a better view.

 In addition to keeping a respectful distance from nesting turtle mothers and from hatchlings, here are the other best practices for protecting Hilton Head sea turtles:

  1. Clean Up Trash & Debris On The Beach - Pack out everything you bring to the beach and throw away any trash you see.
  2. Fill In Holes & Break Down Sand Castles - Holes and sand castles on beaches are major hazards to turtles. Break them down or fill them in to provide the sea turtles with safe passage from nests to water.
  3. Don't Disturb Nests Or Sand Tracks - For obvious reasons, don't disturb sea turtle nests in any way as it could be harmful to turtle eggs, hatchings, or even the mothers. Volunteer organizations like Sea Turtle Patron Hilton Head Island and Turtle Trackers rely on sand tracks on the beach to locate new nests, so please leave those undisturbed as well.
  4. Turn Off Your Lights & Close Your Shades - Turtle hatchlings find their way to the sea by following the moonlight and its shimmering reflection on the ocean water. However, any other lights (street lamps, phones, cameras, etc.) can disorient the baby sea turtles and prevent them from safely reaching the water. To prevent this disorientation, always follow Hilton Head Island's 10PM - 6AM lights out policy from May through October.

And that's it for everything you need to know about the sea turtle nesting season at Hilton Head Island. For even more great information on the island's sea turtles, be sure to check out a free public Sea Turtle Talks hosted by Sea Turtle Patrol HHI every Monday from June through August.

Whether you're coming to Hilton Head Island during turtle nesting season or any other time of the year, be sure to complete your perfect vacation by booking with Island Getaway. We have a fantastic selection of vacation rentals including oceanfront homes, luxury rentals in Sea Pines and Palmetto Dunes, and great pet-friendly options as well! Click the button below to browse all our Hilton Head Island rentals.