For many, summertime in the Lowcountry means taking to the water, hitting the beaches and enjoying the outdoors. For our state reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle, however, it means the beginning of nesting season.
From May to August, sea turtles will make their way to our beaches to begin nesting. After an approximately 60-day incubation period, the hatchlings will surface – usually under cover of darkness – to begin their life with an arduous journey to the ocean.
Unfortunately, life is difficult for the hatchlings and, while they face natural predators, many perish due to artificial lighting leading them astray, holes dug in the beach, fishing nets and other human-related dangers.
Fortunately, there’s a new group on Hilton Head Island that stands ready to help. Turtle Trackers, a special interest group within the Women’s Club of Sea Pines, began as a way for volunteers to spread awareness and help mitigate these problems through educational activism.
Founder Karen Kindermann got the idea for the group after meeting Amber Kuehn, marine biologist and Sea Turtle Project manager at the Coastal Discovery Museum, during a walk on the beach.
“I bumped into Amber on the beach while she was working with one of the turtle nests,” Kindermann said. “I started asking some questions and became absolutely enthralled by the turtles.”
Kindermann created the Turtle Trackers group in April and has since been working with Kuehn to ensure sea turtle safety during this year’s nursing season.
It has proven to be an especially tumultuous season, Kindermann said, as the beaches of Hilton Head are currently undergoing a re-nourishment process, leaving only a small area left untouched by the construction.
In order to prevent the nests from being covered by sand, all the nests are being relocated to the untouched locations around Sea Pines, South Forest Beach, Folly Field, The Westin and part of Port Royal Plantation.
On top of this, more than 267 nests have been found so far, setting an early trend that could easily shatter previous Hilton Head records for sea turtle nests.
Currently, Turtle Trackers volunteers are distributing free doormats to property owners reminding them to turn off their beachfront lights from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through October.
The turtle group also is working with Bob Gossett, president of The Salty Dog Café, on a T-shirt campaign to help spread their message.
With help from the Turtle Trackers, Kuehn hopes to make a positive difference for our sea turtle populations.
“The Turtle Trackers aren’t your typical volunteer group,” said Khuen. “They do a lot of great work organizing talks, filling in holes, and talking with home owners and property managers. They take a lot of stress off my shoulders.”
For Kindermann, Turtle Trackers has been a way to connect with the Lowcountry while helping to protect the vulnerable sea turtle populations.
“It’s so fulfilling. The turtles are absolutely fascinating,” said Kindermann. “I’m pretty new to Hilton Head and it makes me feel connected and involved. Together, we’re creating a unit that makes real change.”
To learn more about sea turtles or to adopt a nest, visit www.coastaldiscovery.org.
Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Hilton Head Sun.