Lights out for Turtles

Lights Out LogoThe Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is the state reptile of South Carolina and the most common sea turtle nester along our shores. They are easily recognizable by the large size of their head in relation to their body and their brownish or yellow skin. Adults have top shells that measure from 30-42 inches in length and usually weigh up to 400 pounds. Males are larger than females, and are not known to come ashore once they leave their beach of birth. Females usually begin to nest the first or second week in May; the nesting season usually ends by the end of August. Females usually emerge to nest at night and lay an average of 120 eggs per nest. They locate an appropriate nest site by judging the temperature and moisture of the sand. The female uses her rear flippers alternately to excavate a nest; when egg laying is completed, she covers the nest cavity, compacts the sand with the weight of her body and throws sand around with her front flippers. She then returns to the sea.

Photo of Sea Turtle Hatchlings headind to seaThe eggs incubate for 50-60 days, during which time the sex of the embryos is determined by the temperature in the nest; warmer temperatures produce females, cooler temperatures produce males. As the young begin to hatch, they cooperate in digging towards the surface, and emerge when the sand temperatures cool and daylight fades. They navigate to the ocean by following the downward slope of the beach and skylight reflected off the ocean's surface. Landward lights that are brighter than this natural light disorient the hatchlings and cause them to move inland, where they often die from dehydration and exhaustion, drown in pools, are hit by cars, or are taken by predators.

Loggerheads are listed as a threatened species by both the federal government and the state of South Carolina. Many people who read about the plight of endangered or threatened species feel the problems these species face are too great for them to be able to help.

There are many very simple things we can do to promote the survival of Loggerheads on Hilton Head Island:

  • Photo of Turtle Hatchlings heading to seaIf your building is visible from the beach, turn off your outside lights at 10 p.m. from 1 May - 31 October, the nesting and hatching season for Loggerheads.
  • If any of your interior lights are visible from the beach or cast light on the beach, close blinds or drapes at 10 p.m. or turn them off.
  • Never leave beach umbrellas, chairs, or any other beach accessories on the beach overnight. Nesting female turtles may get tangled in them, and for hatchlings they are often impassable and disorienting.

The Town's Beach Ordinance now prohibits:

  • Shovels, except those that are made of wood and/or plastic and that are less than 30 inches in length and 6 inches in width

  • Digging holes in the sand that are more than 12 inches in depth

  • Leaving personal belongings on the beach overnight; if left, they are subject to confiscation and disposal

    This ordinance also requires that all holes be filled so that the sand is returned to its original state before you leave the beach for the day. Holes can be death traps for sea turtle hatchlings and hazards for beach goers, especially after dark.

  • Place all trash and recyclables in the appropriate receptacles.

  • Never disturb a sea turtle nest, a nesting sea turtle or a hatchling.

Report Light Violations

Contact Town of Hilton Head Island Code Enforcement Officers weekdays:

Wendy Conant email icon - 843-341-4643
Todd McNeill email icon - 843-341-4642

Report Dead, Injured or Harrassed Turtles

Contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resourcesexternal link icon hotline at 1-800-922-5431, day or night and weekends.

Posted by John Coulter on
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