South Carolina’s Official State Reptile
Loggerhead Sea Turtles are well known to Hilton Head residents, and are considered residents of the Island during nesting season, which runs from May through October.
In the United States, the turtles are designated a threatened species, and are likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. Because of this, we have guidelines to ensure the nesting loggerhead turtles have an undisturbed habitat so they can continue nesting and multiply, and we take those guidelines seriously.
Here on the Island female loggerheads nest on the beaches between May and August, and will nest every two to four years, coming ashore between four to six times per season to lay eggs. She may lay her nests relatively close, within 1 km, or as far apart as 400 km. Loggerheads typically nest at night, crawling to a dry patch of beach in the soft sand, where they dig a nesting hole with her their rear flippers and deposits an average of 120 eggs.
We typically average 150 nests per season, though I’ve recently heard our nest activity has been on the rise in the last three years, with each averaging more than 300 nests per season.
If you had to guess what the state’s official reptile is, I’m willing to bet you’d say “alligator” if asked. But you’d be wrong! What most vacationers on Hilton Head don’t know is that it’s the Sea Turtle! How’d that happen? Glad you asked…back in 1988 a fifth grade class in the little upstate town of Ninety Six (yes, really, that’s its name) decided that if the threatened species were deemed the state reptile, it would bring more attention to the plight of the loggerhead. The class wrote letters to their state Senator, John Drummond, who introduced a bill in the legislature. The class also came to the Senate, displaying a banner from the balcony. The bill passed on the last day of the session, officially classifying the loggerhead sea turtle as the state reptile.
Right now the greatest threat to the loggerheads is the loss of nesting habitat due to coastal development and human disturbances such as coastal lighting and houses built right on the beach. The lights at night cause the hatchlings to become disoriented, and making their way back to the ocean becomes difficult, if not impossible. Along with that, their long-distance migration makes them susceptible to accidental capture by commercial fisheries, as well as ocean pollution. Worse, the exotic food industry and the international and illegal pet trade has become a factor affecting their survival.
If you’re interested in seeing just how far our South Carolina sea turtles travel, click this link and track them online.
While you’re staying on Hilton Head, I’d suggest making a day trip up to The South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, SC. They’re home to the Sea Turtle Hospital, a group who aids sick and injured sea turtles in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
The loggerhead sea turtle is so much a part of my life as a native Islander. They’re truly beautiful creatures, but are now dependent on our assistance to preserve their future as a species. To do your part to protect them while you’re on vacation here, I have some ways to help.
- If you’re staying on beachfront property, turn your lights off from the start of May through to the end of October – from dusk until dawn.
- When you’re on the beach, try to pick up any litter you see.
- Fill in sand holes and smooth out sand castles when you leave.
- If you see a stranded and/or injured sea turtles, call SCDNR’s Hotline: (800) 922-5431
- Don’t mess with the nests. Ever.
- Don’t shine flashlights or take flash photographs of nesting turtles. Ever.
And finally, if you regularly come to Hilton Head Island for vacation, consider adopting a Hilton Head Island sea turtle nest. Many of my friends and family have, and I have as well.