Volunteer Turtle Trackers provide a plethora of services and education to assist and continue sea turtle preservation efforts on Hilton Head Island. COURTESY SEA TURTLE PATROL HILTON HEAD ISLAND

Operating with a volunteer staff, under a permit from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the Sea Turtle Patrol of Hilton Head Island works tirelessly on Hilton Head Island’s 14 miles of beach, from May to October, to assure a successful nesting and hatching season for these endangered sea turtles. 

Initiated to support the efforts of Sea Turtle Patrol HHI, a key component of the island’s successful sea turtle preservation efforts is our legion of Turtle Trackers whose goal is to create a turtle-safe beach.   

Turtle Trackers was formed in 2016 in Sea Pines, later expanding to include Forest Beach, Shipyard, Palmetto Dunes/Singleton, Port Royal and North End chapters. Approximately 300 volunteer Turtle Trackers educate visitors and work hard to maintain a safe nesting habitat along the island’s beaches.     

Turtle Trackers walk the beach every day from May through October – mornings, evenings, and during the day – to ensure that debris is collected, holes are filled in, sandcastles are flattened, and marked nests are not disturbed.   

“We are really beach ambassadors,” said Barbara Faraci, outgoing president of the Sea Pines Turtle Trackers. “We answer questions, provide information, create memorable and safe experiences when there is turtle activity on the beach. For many guests, this is their first encounter with an endangered species protection program.  They are interested and committed. Most choose to subscribe to the Sea Turtle Patrol HHI Newsletter and visit our websites.”

“Dark, flat and clean” is the Turtle Trackers’ mantra. They hand-out red filters for flashlights for evening walks, pick up trash and beach articles left behind, fill holes and explain to curious beachgoers about the marked nests and the process of the loggerhead turtles’ nesting and hatching.

Turtle Trackers not only make the beaches safe for sea turtles, but they also man education booths around the island, and offer docents for the turtle education talks presented by Sea Turtle Patrol at various island resorts, including Celebration Park.   

They work with rental companies to distribute literature and create awareness of turtle protection protocol. For a 2022 season opener, Turtle Trackers will be distributing “Lights Out” door mats to hundreds of oceanfront rental properties. 

Turtle Trackers are essential for a successful protection program for our endangered turtles, offering education and creating awareness of our island’s ecosystem.

Turtle Trackers are informed and passionate in their commitment to support Sea Turtle Patrol’s efforts. So, with this successful 2021 turtle season winding down, we stop to thank our devoted volunteers.

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