Volunteer Turtle Trackers work in our learning stations to teach interested parties about our loggerhead sea turtle visitors. COURTESY SEA TURTLE PATROL

It is no small task to get Hilton Head Island’s 14 miles of beach ready and safe for the nesting loggerhead sea turtles that will start arriving in May. As soon as one season has ended in October, we begin preparing for the next.

Fortunately, we have a team of almost 500 Turtle Trackers island-wide to assist us. Since 2016, they have supported the Sea Turtle Patrol’s efforts to protect the federally protected endangered sea turtles who nest and hatch on our beach.

Every day, May to October, mornings and evenings, Turtle Trackers are on the beach to assure the beaches are flat and safe. The most challenging initiative is to keep the beaches free of trash and beach items that could interfere with the nesting loggerheads’ journey from the sea to dry sand.

Turtle Trackers also serve as “beach ambassadors” for the many beachgoers who are increasingly interested in the turtle program. Indeed, many guests schedule their visits to Hilton Head Island to coincide with turtle season.

Each year, all Turtle Trackers must attend my mandatory education seminars on the turtle protection program so that they are aware and informed. Turtle Trackers are often interacting with interested folks on the beach and may also be needed to alert members of the Sea Turtle Patrol when they are needed at specific locations.     

Education for those who manage and staff Hilton Head Island’s beach-oriented resorts, hotels, rental properties and vacation accommodations is critical for our successful nesting beach management program.    

Turtle Trackers work tirelessly in these efforts. We contact as many of the hospitality industry workers as possible, distributing educational materials, window clings, brochures, red flashlight filters to be used after dark, and other items to inform visitors about sea turtle protection activities.

Hundreds of “Lights Out 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.”  sisal door mats are distributed to rental homes and villas along the beach. Signs that include sea turtle protection measures are posted at virtually every beach entrance: fill holes, knock down sandcastles, use red light flashlights, leave nests undisturbed, and pick up trash to make the beach turtle-safe at the end of day.

With the support of the Town of Hilton Head, and the enthusiasm and efforts of our Turtle Trackers, along with the Sea Turtle Patrol which drives the beaches daily to mark, protect and record nesting activity, this could be a banner year for sea turtles. 

Get ready! The season officially starts May 1.

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