Female sea turtles return to the ocean after laying their eggs in soft sand on our island’s beaches. COURTESY SEA TURTLE PATROL HHI

It’s Turtle Time on Hilton Head Island’s 14 miles of beach and everyone – visitors and residents – is encouraged to join in to make this a successful nesting and hatching season for the visiting sea turtles.

When the water temperature reaches 70 degrees, the sea turtles, mostly loggerheads, come ashore to make a nest and lay their eggs.

Loggerheads nest at night to avoid predators and overheating in the summer sun. The mother selects a site above the high tide line in the dry sand. Once she has laid her eggs, she will cover her nest and make her crawl back to the sea. 

Hatching begins in July and nesting stops in mid-August. A loggerhead can nest several times in a single season.

Volunteers from the Sea Turtle Patrol HHI drive the 14 miles of beach every morning before dawn from May to October. These volunteers are state-certified to manage and oversee all things sea turtle. 

Each nest location is marked using GPS, with information entered into the SCDNR electronic data base. Caution tape affixed to poles in the sand surrounds each nest. The nests are monitored through the 60- to 80-day incubation period. 

A network of volunteer Turtle Trackers is also out on the beaches every day to educate visitors on beach etiquette for the nesting season. In the evenings, the Turtle Trackers clear debris and make sure there is a clear path for nesting female loggerheads and their hatchlings.

Hatchlings emerge approximately 60 days after the eggs are laid, when they sense a temperature drop, indicating that the sun has set.  The 2-inch-long hatchlings begin a dangerous journey in the darkness, starting with a walk to the ocean and a long swim offshore. 

Life is difficult for these babies, and it is likely only one in a thousand hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Last year, 291 turtle nests were marked along Hilton Head’s beaches, with an estimated 23,700 turtles hatched and returned to the sea.

Visit the Sea Turtle Patrol website by using the QR code found on the beach signs or go to seaturtlepatrolhhi.org for up-to-date turtle activity information. To support the Sea Turtle’s Patrol’s efforts, donations are accepted on the website; 100% of donations goes to nest monitoring efforts.

You can also complete a Nest Dedication form on the website and receive information throughout the turtle nesting season. ‘

Amber Kuehn is the director of Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island and holder of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources permit.