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Lights Out for the Turtles - Sea Turtle Protection

Loggerhead sea turtles nest on the beaches of Hilton Head Island and other southeast beaches between May and August. An adult female will nest once every two to four years, coming to shore 4 and 6 times per season to lay eggs. Nesting typically occurs at night - the female crawls slowly to a dry part of the beach and begins to excavate a pit with her flippers. Once the cavity has been dug she deposits an average of 120 eggs. Using her rear flippers, she then covers the egg cavity and throws sand over the nest to disguise it from predators. When the work is done, the female slowly returns to the sea.

Image of turtle hatchling tracks on beachAbout 60 days after the female lays her eggs, the small turtles begin to hatch. They use a sharp tooth to break open the shell. All of the hatchlings join together to dig out of the nest, a job that can take several days. During the cool night, the 2 inch long hatchlings emerge from their sandy nest and scramble toward the sea. It is during this run to the sea that many hatchlings fall prey to waiting predators. Once in the water, hatchlings swim several miles off shore where they catch ocean currents. The hatchlings stay in the open water for several years before returning to nearshore waters.

The most important way you can protect Hilton Head Island's loggerhead sea turtles is to turn the lights out!

Sea turtle hatchlings usually emerge from the nest at night. They orient themselves toward the brightest horizon and dash towards the sea. Lights from buildings and streets near the beach disorient the hatchlings, and they wander inland where they often die from exposure or predation. If they don't make it to the ocean quickly, many hatchlings will die of dehydration in the sun or be caught by predators like birds and crabs.

Artificial lights also discourage females from nesting. The Town of Hilton Head Island requires that lights on structures visible from the beach be shielded or turned off after 10 p.m.from May 1 to October 31. Any windows facing the beach must also be covered with draperies or shade screens.

What you can do to protect the sea turtles from May 1 st thru October 31 st:

  • Make sure no interior or exterior lights from your home, temporary residence or vacation unit illuminate the beach after 10 p.m.;
  • Floodlights are prohibited. Make sure your exterior floodlights are disabled during nesting season.
  • Make sure exterior wall mounted fixtures are fitted with hoods so that no light illuminates the beach.
  • Low profile luminaries are to be used in parking lots and the lights are to be positioned so that no light illuminates the beach
  • Lights illuminating dune walkovers of any areas oceanward of the dune must be turned off during nesting season
  • Close curtains, blinds or shutters after 10PM to avoid interior lights illuminating the beach
  • Ocean front homes that do not have window treatments are required to have tinted or filmed glass with a shading co-efficient of .45 or less and a minimum 5 year warranty;
  • Report any violations to the Town of Hilton Head Island Code Enforcement Officers.

To report light violations please contact Town of Hilton Head Island Code Enforcement Officer:

Karen Noffsinger email icon - 843-341-4643
Ward Williamson
email icon - 843-341-4642

Photo of Turtle Hatchling SwimmingTo report a dead or injured sea turtle contact:

Sally Krebs email icon -843-341-4690
Beach Patrol - 843-785-3494

The Coastal Discovery Museumexternal link icon
(843) 689-6767

To report wildlife offenses contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resourcesexternal link icon - 1-800-922-5431