Sea turtle nesting season has started on Hilton Head beaches, do you know the rules?

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC (WSAV) – Two days into sea turtle nesting season and already two nests were found in Georgia beach towns.

According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, a nest was found Saturday morning on Little Cumberland Island. Georgia Sea Turtle Cooperative members reported a second nest Sunday on Sea Island.

Hilton Head Island is anxiously waiting for its first nest and wants to make sure these little ones have a good shot at a long life.

“We haven’t had anything major happen except for the Pandemic which the turtles don’t care about,” said Amber Kuehn of the Hilton Head Sea Turtle Patrol.

Amber Kuehn, head of the Sea Turtle Patrol says that could be good news for our nests. Last year there were only 291 found on the beach, primarily loggerhead turtles. This year Kuehn expects more than 300.

But why is that so important for the area?

“Sea turtles are a keystone species,” explains Kuehn. “They have been on the planet for 80 million years. We don’t really know what would happen if they were gone but we do know like a Jenga puzzle, you start taking things out, and eventually, it is going to collapse.”

This is why the 16 volunteer members of the Sea Turtle Patrol work so hard to keep the turtles, and their nests of about 120 loggerhead babies, only 5 centimeters at birth, safe.

“My goal is to get them from the nest to the water and that is more difficult than you think,” says Kuehn. “We say 1 in 100 makes it from the nest to their destination because from Hilton Head it’s a 70-mile swim to the Gulfstream.”

That’s compared to Florida, which is only a one day swim for the species, 3-5 miles in all.

They face other dangers as well even when they make it to the water.

“Pelicans eat them from above, fish eat them from below.”

Volunteers will work hard, but they are counting on the people who use the beach during the day to make sure the turtles can get to the water at night

“Holes need to be filled in at the end of the day so they don’t fall in and get eaten right away at sunset, or at sunrise,” Kuehn explains that filling in those beach holes is part of a recent town ordinance. “We need to make sure personal property is off the beach because sea turtles come out of the nest and run into that. They turn around and they don’t nest. Hatchings can hit that get distracted and lose their way”

Leave the nests undisturbed. Don’t touch the eggs in the nest or the turtles when they come out.

“Always always stay behind the turtles they need to have a clear path,” said Kuehn.

The latest revision to Hilton Head’s lighting ordinance for beach properties may add to our annual numbers according to Kuehn.

“Instead of only the 2nd floor being considered it is now the 2nd floor and 1st floor,” explains Kuehn. “We also added interior lights to the ordinance because these new glass beachfront homes, which used to be beach cottages, now there is plenty of light coming out of those homes. Interior is also to be considered.”

“With the bright light on the porch, it just consumes them, they are mesmerized by it. It makes them go the opposite direction and that’s what we don’t want to see happen.”

As for exterior lights at pools or in yards of those homes.

“They have to be downward facing and shielded if they are on after 10pm.”

Adding an amber bulb to those lights does not exclude you from using a downard facing light or shield.

If you would like to learn more about the sea turtles, the Turtle Patrol will be holding special talks at Lowcountry Celebration Park every Monday in June, July, and August at 8 pm. Each talk will take about 45 minutes, and everyone is welcome to attend.

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