The Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is the state reptile of South Carolina and the most common sea turtle nester along our shores. 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.
The 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. But there are many very simple things we can do to promote the survival of Loggerheads on Hilton Head Island:
- If 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.
- If you are digging holes in the beach or building sand castles, please return the sand to its undisturbed state before leaving the beach. Both of these things can be death traps for hatchlings that stumble into them.
- Place all trash and recyclables in the appropriate receptacles.
- Never disturb a sea turtle nest, a nesting sea turtle or a hatchling.
- To report light violations please contact Town of Hilton Head Island Code Enforcement Officers weekdays at 843-341-4643. To report dead, injured or harassed turtles contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resourcesexternal link icon hotline at 1-800-922-5431, day or night and weekends.