Dragging their newly formed fins across the sand, the hatched loggerhead sea turtle makes their trek to the ocean.
They hope 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 before 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.
“Last year we had a 62 percent nesting decrease here in Hilton Head and all over South Carolina,” said Amber Kuehn, the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Program manager for the Coastal Discovery Museum. “We find every nest and the volunteers mark it off.”
Unfortunately, no one knows what causes this kind of drop off in nesting, but there are some theories. One may be that there were scarce food sources so the nesting mothers had nothing to eat, and another could be predators. 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.
“It’s usually what you don’t think about that can hurt them the most,” said Kuehn.
“Things that look like jellyfish, plastic, they try to eat. Trash left out is a really dangerous thing for sea turtles.”
And while digging and building that sandcastle may be fun, remember to make sure it is filled in or dismantled before leaving the beach for the day.
“People think that the water washes sandcastles away at night but that doesn’t always happen. Baby turtles bump into the sand and turn around and go the opposite direction from the ocean.” said Kuehn. “It is a real hazard for them.”
Another way to help is to make sure that all beach and fishing gear is removed at night. Even though they can weigh up to 400 pounds and stretch to four feet long, they still can become easily trapped by these objects. Many times the turtles walk up onto the shore and knock into them. This frightens them and turns them around to head back into the ocean.
Bright lights can deter mother sea turtles from returning to their nests. They also confuse new hatchlings of which direction the ocean lies.
Make sure to turn off all outside lights and pull the shades to prevent indoor lights from being seen. Doing this between May 1 and October 31 saves the lives of the loggerhead turtles.
“There are night patrols that monitor the beaches to see if any lights can be seen,” said Kuehn. “You can get up to a $1,000 fine if your lights are on and can be seen from the beach.”
Everyone can do their part to help protect loggerhead sea turtles. But, do not disturb the nests or hatchlings. You must have a federal permit to do so. This is where the Coastal Discovery Museum and Amber Kuehn take over. Hilton Head’s local nature museum and conservation specialists are authorized to care for the loggerheads. They also educate those on the island, as to the patterns, history and the beauty of the loggerhead.
For more information, call the Coastal Discovery Museum at (843) 689-6767.