Turtle Time

Realizing my childhood dream

If you were anything like me as a child, you, at one point, had a dream of being a marine biologist.  What did that mean to me as a kid?  Simply put, swimming all day long with dolphins and shouting from the bed enthusiastically “I get to go to work today” every morning when I would wake up.  Unfortunately for me, the dream was shattered instantaneously when I realized that, in large part, science was the one subject you had to excel in to become a marine biologist.

However, with the Coastal Discovery Museum’s Turtle Talk & Walk, I got to live that dream for, what I can only describe from my experience as, 2 extraordinary hours.

A hatchling begins its journey to the Gulf Stream leaving little turtle tracks in the sandPresented by staffers of the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project, the program starts with a one hour introduction to Sea Turtles.  A combination of a slide presentation with videos, skeletal samples and touch and feel examples, the staff does a great job of summarizing Sea Turtles that is fun for both adults and children.  However, questions such as ‘what are the four characteristics of a reptile’ and ‘what do you think was in this hole of the turtle’s skull’ made me wonder if I would be at all competitive on the televised game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?.

Some helpful turtle tidbits as you prepare for the Turtle Talk include:

  • There are six varieties of Sea Turtles – Leatherbacks, Green Sea Turtles, Hawksbills, Olive Ridley Turtles, Kemp Ridley Turtles and Loggerheads.
  • The largest of the Sea Turtle species is the Leatherback averaging up to 1,000 pounds and the shell measuring, from top to bottom, 6 feet.
  • The Loggerhead (thought to come from ‘Larger Head’) is the one species of Sea Turtles that regularly nests on Hilton Head Island beaches.  They average 300-400 pounds and their shells measure roughly 30 – 45” in length.
  • Loggerheads only leave the water to nest

And, nest they do.  Following the talk portion of the evening, we retreated to the beach for our walk to one of the nearly 300 nests currently on Hilton Head Island’s beaches.  The moon was full and the beach well illuminated.   Upon arriving at the nest, our group was so lucky to witness 2 of the hatchlings (the babies) emerging from the nest beneath the sand.  After pulling themselves out from the 3 foot hole dug by the mother to lay her eggs, the hatchlings, following the moonlight, maneuver down the beach towards the water where they set off on their journey to the Gulf Stream.  In conducting the inventory that night, the staffers found one additional hatchling which they aided in getting it down to the water’s edge.

It was a sight I had never seen and felt extremely lucky to have witnessed.

Click here to see the hatchlings journey begin.

Want to learn about Sea Turtles?   Join in one of the Coastal Discovery Museum’s Evening Turtle Talk & Walks.  Adults are $20 and children are $15 (but please note, no children under 4 are permitted).  Sessions are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays (June 5th through August 30) from 8pm to 10pm.  But I highly suggest you reserve your space EARLY.  Sessions fill up very quickly every season.  To make a reservation, call (843) 689-6767 ext. 223.

Want to adopt your own Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest? Click here to download the application.