The Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is the state reptile of South Carolina and the most common sea turtle nester along our shores. They are easily recognizable by the large size of their head in relation to their body and their brownish or yellow skin. Adults have top shells that measure from 30-42 inches in length and usually weigh up to 400 pounds. Males are larger than females, and are not known to come ashore once they leave their beach of birth. Females usually begin to nest the first or second week in May; the nesting season usually ends by the end of August. Females usually emerge to nest at night and lay an average of 120 eggs per nest. They locate an appropriate nest site by judging the temperature and moisture of the sand. The female uses her rear flippers alternately to excavate a nest; when egg laying is completed, she covers the nest cavity, compacts the sand with the weight of her body and throws sand around with her front flippers. She then returns to the sea.
The eggs incubate for 50-60 days, during which time the sex of the embryos is determined by the temperature in the nest; warmer temperatures produce females, cooler temperatures produce males. As the young begin to hatch, they cooperate in digging towards the surface, and emerge when the sand temperatures cool and daylight fades. They navigate to the ocean by following the downward slope of the beach and skylight reflected off the ocean's surface. Landward lights that are brighter than this natural light disorient the hatchlings and cause them to move inland, where they often die from dehydration and exhaustion, drown in pools, are hit by cars, or are taken by predators.
Loggerheads are listed as a threatened species by both the federal government and the state of South Carolina. Many people who read about the plight of endangered or threatened species feel the problems these species face are too great for them to be able to help. But there are many very simple things we can do to promote the survival of Loggerheads on Hilton Head Island:
To report light violations please contact Town of Hilton Head Island Code Enforcement Officers weekdays:
To report dead, injured or harassed turtles contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources hotline at 1-800-922-5431, day or night and weekends.
SC Department of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/seaturtle/cc.htm