A sea turtle nesting season that has delighted thousands of visitors and residents has come to a successful conclusion. The last hatchlings of 2021 have made their way to the sea.

This year’s sea turtle nesting season resulted in 283 nests on Hilton Head Island’s 14 miles of Atlantic beach. 

There were 282 loggerhead nests and 1 green sea turtle nest.  There were 23,0017 eggs that hatched, and 22,107 hatchlings that made it out into the world. Despite the slight decrease from 291 nests in 2020, the emergence success this season was 67.3%, slightly above average.

The 17 hard-working members of Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island’s volunteer staff were responsible for monitoring the beach daily, beginning May 1. The 5 a.m. beach patrols ended Oct. 8 with only five nests left to check, and the last nest was inventoried Oct. 28.   

We counted 28 nests that were affected by lights left on after 10 p.m. Hatchlings can’t find the ocean when artificial lights distract them.

Great efforts are made by Sea Turtle Patrol and our sister organization, Turtle Trackers, to educate the public, especially visitors at resort and rental properties that border the beach, to make them aware of our beach lighting rules and other measures to be taken to protect our nesting sea turtles.

We are looking forward to welcoming a larger population of nesting loggerheads in 2022. Since loggerheads typically have nesting intervals that skip two years, we expect the larger population to exceed a nesting density of more than 300 nests. They were last here in 2019, our record year, with 463 nests.

An enormous “thank you” to those who dedicated a nest in 2021 thought Sea Turtle Patrol HHI to support our sea turtle preservation efforts. Nests for 2022 are now available for dedication. Check our website, SeaTurtlePatrolHHI.org, for more information. This is the only program where 100% of the proceeds go directly to nest monitoring expenses on the beach.

A huge part of our efforts, supported by hundreds of volunteer Turtle Trackers, I like to call “sand management.” The widespread education outreach efforts that were conducted this season included Turtle Talks held every night in June, July and August at various resorts, and public turtle talks weekly at Celebration Park in Coligny.

Window clings, awareness posters, signage, red flashlight filters and stickers were distributed by the thousands and the island media graciously promoted and supported our efforts. Educational kiosks were manned at Shelter Cove during the fireworks display and at Salty Dog Café in Sea Pines. 

It takes a village, and we continue to ask for support from islanders and visitors to join our efforts to save the turtles and create a truly turtle-friendly environment here on Hilton Head Island.   

The 2022 nesting season starts in May.  Our work begins now! To see how you can get involved, visit SeaTurtlePatrolHHI.com or TurtleTrackershhi.org.

Amber Kuehn is executive director of Sea Turtle Patrol HHI, and is the SCDNR permit holder for the island.