Lights Out for Loggerheads

Sea Turtles

This photo at the Coastal Discovery Museum exhibit shows two baby sea turtles making their way to the ocean.

Dragging their newly formed fins across the sand, baby loggerhead sea turtles venture out to the ocean, hopefully to reconnect with their mother who had laid their egg two months prior. It is said that roughly only one egg in 10,000 reaches maturity. Here on the shores of Hilton Head Island the loggerheads, as well as six other species of turtles, make their nests, just as their mothers and their mothers did before them. With the Island’s busiest beach season upon us, how do we protect these beautiful, but endangered, sea creatures while still having a great time at the beach? Thankfully, the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Program at the Coastal Discovery Museum helps to protect these gorgeous sea creatures.

While, of course, the loggerheads have natural predators such as seagulls, raccoons and the like, humans pose a much bigger and much more realistic threat. Because beaches are filled with people during the day, what they leave behind can pose serious threats to any turtle in the dark.

Trash bags are detrimental, as they can be confused as jellyfish, which loggerheads consider a food source. Another way to help is to make sure that no umbrella, chair, unattended fishing gear or anything of the like is left over night. Many times the turtles walk up onto the shore, and even though they can weigh up to 400 pounds and stretch to four feet long, they still can become easily trapped by these objects, and will knock into them, frightening themselves and turning around to head back into the ocean.

Bright lights can also deter mother sea turtles from returning to their nests, and confuse new hatchlings of which direction the ocean lies. Making sure to turn off all outside lights and pulling the shades to prevent indoor lights from being seen between May 1 and October 31 is one of the biggest things people can do to help loggerhead turtles. Leaving lights on is declared to be unlawful by the Town of Hilton Head Island. While there is no specific penalty is provided for this violation, it can be  punishable by a fine of up to $500, a 30-day jail, or both.

While everyone can do their part to help protect loggerheads, not everyone can be out on the beach protecting nests to make sure they remain undisturbed until they hatch. Because to do that, you must have a federal permit to do so, which is where the Coastal Discovery Museum takes over. Hilton Head’s local nature museum and conservation specialists make sure to educate those on the island, native and vacationer alike, as to the patterns, history and all in all beauty of the loggerhead.

For more information, call the Coastal Discovery Museum at (843) 689-6767.