Darkness fades as the golden rays of the sun angelically illuminate a sea turtle’s incredible tracks, temporarily imprinted through the sand crystals on Hilton Head Island’s beach. Early risers can experience nature at its finest as the majestic sunrise signals the beginning of a new day filled with hope. Between May and October, beachgoers may have the pleasure of discovering the distinctive tracks left from a sea turtle’s crawl to and from her nest. Hilton Head is fortunate to have four out of seven species of turtles documented in our area.
The best way to see a spectacular turtle nest is to walk along Hilton Head Island’s sandy beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean. You can find this protected turtle nest in Palmetto Dunes Resort.
The endangered Loggerhead sea turtle finds Hilton Head Island’s clean and well-preserved beaches to be the ideal nesting ground, with approximately 250 nests per year. The South Shore beaches in Sea Pines have the most nests. The loggerhead is the most abundant species of sea turtle in our island waters. An easy way to recognize and remember it is by its large head size, larger head - loggerhead, although it is believed to be named for its resemblance to a pine log because of the scales found on its log-shaped head. Even without teeth, they love a crunchy diet! Their powerful jaws allow them to feed on conch shells, whelks, and other hard-shelled critters to reach a weight of up to 300lbs.
The Green Sea Turtles, especially juveniles, may be found swimming near Hilton Head Island when the surrounding water of the Atlantic Ocean is warm. Interestingly their name was chosen because their body fat turns a shade of green because of their herbivorous (vegan) diet. Their endangered status is a real threat to the ecosystem because they feed on algae and seagrass, contributing to healthy sea life. An average green turtle weighs 350 lbs. But they can eat enough vegetation to reach weights up to 700 lbs, making them the giant species among the hard-shelled turtles.
The Leatherbacks do generally not nest on Hilton Head Islands sandy beaches but enjoy the freshwater nearby in the spring and fall. As their name implies, their carapace (shell) is rubbery and feels like leather. The leatherback’s scissor-like jaws are perfect for feasting on jellyfish, occasionally mixed with seaweed. They eat enough jellyfish to reach weights between 600-1200 lbs.
The Kemp Ridley is the smallest marine turtle and spotted swimming in the summer water around Hilton Head Island. This 80-100lb. Olive green turtle enjoys feeding on the crustaceans, like the tasty blue crab. The Kemp Ridleys are most common in the Gulf of Mexico.
Who made this track on Port Royal Beach?
Each turtle leaves a slightly different pattern in the sand. This quick reference will help you quickly recognize the type of turtle tracked over the moist sand to pit a secure nest and lay her eggs.
Loggerhead - 3ft. Track width, smooth track center, and alternating flipper marks.
Green Turtleback - 4ft. Track width, tail drag track in center, parallel flipper marks
Leatherback - 6-7ft. Track width, tail drag, and tail point track in center, parallel flipper marks
Each delicate hatchling needs our help to continue to make Hilton Head Island a beautiful home. Please follow our additional blogs for more information on these amazing marine reptiles.
Contributed by Janice Magnin, 2021
Posted by Bill True on