A dolphin plays near Hilton Head Island.

Protecting Our Home: Conservation on Hilton Head Island

Shady maritime forests. Swaying Spanish moss. Ancient live oaks. Spectacular salt marshes. Beyond our iconic beaches, these are just a few things that immediately come to mind when you picture Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; it’s also an important part of what makes us America’s Favorite Island. Flowers bloom nearly year-round, and our wildlife is wonderfully diverse. Walk along our sandy shores or cruise down our network of bike paths among winding lagoons and it’s easy to see what makes our island so special—and why it’s worth investing in concerted conservation efforts.

Read on to learn about the programs we’ve put in place to protect our beautiful island, preserve cultural sites, and add and protect public spaces so that future generations may continue to fall in love with the natural wonder that is Hilton Head Island.

Reclaiming Our Waterways

Since the early 1980s, Hilton Head Island has led the nation in sustainable water recycling projects.

Hilton Head Public Service Department irrigates the Island’s six mayor watersheds with high-quality, treated domestic water to preserve hundreds of acres of native old-growth wetlands, home to rare and endangered wildlife and vegetation. Salt water marshes in particular are a vital part of the local ecosystem. Rich in minerals and nutrients, these marshes form a boundary between the open water and land, as well as support a wide variety of animal and plant life. See salt marshes for yourself while enjoying an evening on catamaran cruise.

Crane on Hilton Head Island
Protecting the waterways around Hilton Head Island is a priority. 


Protecting Trees and Native Vegetation

The Town of Hilton Head Island passed the first-of-its-kind regulations to protect community trees in the mid 1980s. The Tree Protection Ordinance protects against and mitigates loss of trees based on ecological standards, and also encourages the protection of understory vegetation. Even for single family homes, tidal wetland buffer standards require that native vegetation be left intact, and that buildings are capped at a specific height to protect the integrity and aesthetic of the natural local landscape. In fact, “On December 27, 2017, Audubon International certified the Town of Hilton Head Island as the first public Audubon Sustainable Community in South Carolina.” (source: hiltonheadislandsc.gov)

Investing in Ecotourism

The evolution of the Island’s tourism economy lies with nature and education-based travel that benefits the local community. With abundant natural resources and qualified tour professionals, enjoy tourism experiences that embrace the best of the island, while fostering low-impact development. Embark on your own eco adventure when you visit! Spot incredible wildlife including alligators, herons, and white-tailed deer at Pickney Island National Wildlife Refuge, hike through Sea Pines Forest Preserve and discover a well-preserved 4,000 year-old Shell Ring created by Native Americans, or break out your binoculars for birdwatching at the Audubon Newhall Preserve.

Birding on Hilton Head Island
Keep your eyes peeled and bring along your binoculars to spot birds and other wildlife! 

Providing Island Education

Opened in 2007, the Coastal Discovery Museum sits on the site of Honey Horn, a historic 68-acre plantation. The museum offers a wide range of fun, interactive environmental and cultural interpretive programs and exhibits for families, schools, and Island visitors. It also hosts the Hilton Head Island Farmers’ Market, so you can sample delicious local food grown on the very land we work to protect. Take an eco tour, learn about local Gullah heritage, or visit the Tom Peeple’s Discovery Lab to get a closer look at animals native to the island like horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, lizards, snakes and more (see website for hours).

Encouraging Open Public Space Protection

The Town of Hilton Head commissioned a long-range master plan in 1988, acquiring land for community parks, sports facilities, environmental protection, and public pathways. This initiative encourages exercise, family-oriented travel, visitation to local businesses, and fewer vehicles on Island roadways. There are over 60 miles of public pathways and nature trails to explore on Hilton Head Island. The best way to do it? By bike! Rent one for a ride and see why the Island is rated as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists.

Keeping A Delicate Ecosystem Safe

The 1980s were an amazing era of change for conservation efforts on the Island. In 1987, a group of concerned local residents created the Hilton Head Island Land Trust—a non-profit corporation with a mission to preserve and protect natural habitats from over-development. Today, nearly 300 acres of Island lands are under the stewardship of the land trust, including the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy, Cypress Conservancy, Northridge Tract and the Civil War-era Fort Howell site. Explore it all via elevated boardwalks designed for maximum immersion in nature with minimal environmental impact. The Town of Hilton Head Island has also played a role in land conservation. Beginning in 1991, the Town began a plan to manage and control growth on the island through a plan similarly created to preserve Nantucket, Massachusetts. As a result, the Town has purchased nearly 1,308 acres to date. These protected areas have precluded commercial development, hotel development and new homes in favor of greenspace, parks and natural habitat conservation.

With all of these conservation efforts in place, you can see how Hilton Head Island has maintained such natural beauty throughout the years. So what are you waiting for? Experience the outdoor adventures of the Island and plan to visit Hilton Head Island, or share your experience using the hashtag #LowcountryLife and you might see your photo featured on our site!


Hurricane Florence Information

Find Your Island Time

Hilton Head is America’s favorite island, offering 12 miles of pristine beaches and everything you need for the ultimate retreat. Enjoy easy days relaxing in the sun, sand and surf on some of the best beaches in the country.
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