One of Hilton Head Island’s first residents arrived in a remarkably designed and sturdy mobile home. The loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), with its heart-shaped carapace, or shell, found our tropical climate and soft, sandy beaches to be the ideal nesting place. Its solid house, a protective exterior shell that covers most of its body, also functions as a float that allows the turtle to rest its flippers and enjoy the refreshing waters surrounding Hilton Head Island.
One loggerhead sea turtle is a 35-year-old Hilton Head Island native. It’s early May, and she is finally feeling mature enough to start her own family! After mating at sea, our familiar coastline calls her home, and she is drawn back to Hilton Head’s pristine shore to lay her eggs in the soft sand for the first time!
Under the calm of darkness, when the female turtle hears only the gentle rumble of the surf, her instincts lure her back to her birthplace on Hilton Head’s coast. On a mission to lay her eggs, she cautiously begins her beach crawl and is thankful that 99.99% of her life is spent in the safety of the water! This marine reptile feels as ungraceful as a fish out of water when she heaves her 250 lb. hard-shelled house through the moist sand. During her solitary life, she has learned to rely on her inner senses and amazingly understands that the survival of her hatchlings begins with a secure spot. The loggerhead trudges on until she feels loose, dry sand, then skillfully converts her flippers into shovels. With two or three claws on each webbed foot, she slowly begins pitting about 18-24 inches down to create a body pit and slide in. Her rear flippers fling more sand around to make an egg cavity. She lays 2-3 ping-pong ball-size eggs at a time until there are approximately 110 flexible eggs in the nest. Since its spring and Hilton Head’s sand temperature is under 82 degrees, this nest will be full of females.
Her awkward appendages spread sand in all directions to cover and disguise her valuable nest and protect her offspring. This incredible effort causes extra salt to squeeze from her face making this new mom appear as if she’s crying. Since her parenting for this nest is complete, she slowly crawls back to the comfort of the moonlit sea.
During the pleasant summer, she floats weightlessly in the inviting waters near Hilton Head’s beach and can return ashore to produce up to six more nests. Her hatchlings will be all males when the sand heats above 88 degrees. During October, our native turtle feels a change in her body as the cooler weather signals the completion of this nesting season. She is confident that even if she lives to be 67, she will always be welcome at this beautifully preserved beach.
Sadly, only one in a thousand loggerhead turtles will successfully reach adulthood, making them endangered. Follow our blog for additional articles on Hilton Head Island’s conservation efforts and tips all beachgoers should know to help save this magnificent marine reptile from extinction.
Hilton Head Island’s fresh sand and exquisite natural environment is the ideal spot for sea turtle families and yours!
Contributed by Janice MagninPosted by Christina Galbreath-Gonzalez on