HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WTOC) - How many turtles is too many? If you ask Hilton Head Island conservationists, there’s no such thing.
Turtle season is well underway, and Hilton Head Island has seen record-breaking numbers. The turtles are currently in a period of overlapping, where mothers are still nesting while babies are already hatching.
Conservationists and tourists alike were astonished in 2016 when a record-breaking 411 turtle nests were found on Hilton Head Island. Three years later, that number has been blown out of the water.
As of Monday morning, there were a total of 463 nests on Hilton Head. That’s already a lot of turtles, and even more when you realize each nest has 100 babies. Turtles are still nesting now and babies will be hatching until October.
Biologists say it’s imperative humans don’t interact with them as these eggs incubate in the sand.
The best thing you can do when you know there are turtle nests around is to look for holes on the beach. A hole the size of a melon is big enough for a turtle to fall into and not be able to get back out, so when you see them, just fill them in.
Hilton Head has recently passed legislation to help turtles, and while those have impacted the lifespan of turtles once they hatch, marine biologist Amber Kuehns says that’s not why there are so many more hatchlings this year.
“The theory is that last year’s snow event killed some of the food source that the females needed to feel more robust enough to nest,” Kuehns said. “They don’t eat while they are nesting, so they needed to beef up a little bit before they got into this season. So last year, we only had 179 nests for the whole season. This year, I believe that the girls that skipped last year are nesting with the population that’s due back."
Kuehns says even though the ordinance does not impact whether the turtles are physically able to lay eggs, it does impact what happens to the hatchlings. Just this year, 15 nests of turtles have died due to people leaving lights on, meaning the babies go inland rather than to the ocean. It just shows that even if the island has a record-breaking number of nests, they still need people to take measures to help them live.