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5 Ways Hilton Head Island Contributes to Ecotourism

By Hilton Head Insider

In a place as naturally beautiful as Hilton Head Island, sustainability can’t help but be top of mind. This earth-conscious community spirit was inspired by the dream of visionary developer Charles Fraser, who founded our island’s first resort nearly 70 years ago. Fraser pioneered the use of covenants, deeds, and revolutionary new land planning standards designed to safeguard the island’s biodiversity in a proud legacy of environmentally friendly development.

As America’s first eco-planned community, we’re proud to center environmental stewardship in all that we do, from protecting endangered species to inspiring a love of nature through unforgettable outdoor experiences. Read on to discover five ways you can enjoy an exceptional eco-tourism experience here on Hilton Head Island.

Emissions-Free Island Adventures

The coastal marshlands, white-sand beaches, and stately maritime forests of the Lowcountry beckon you to a world of outdoor exploration. And with more than 60 miles of interconnected leisure pathways crisscrossing the island, it’s the perfect place for an eco-adventure on two wheels. Rated as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the American League of Bicyclists, Hilton Head Island is home to more than two dozen rental shops with approximately 15,000 bikes available, from sporty mountain bikes to retro-inspired beach cruisers.

Take a spin through some of the most scenic trails in South Carolina as you explore key points of interest across the island. Along the way, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, including dolphins, sea turtles, and more than 220 native bird species that make their homes on our sunny shores. It’s the perfect way to get active, breathe the fresh ocean air, and experience the natural beauty of America’s Favorite Island®—completely emissions-free!

people riding bikes

Oyster Recycling and Reef Building

The Lowcountry is famous for its spectacular boat-to-table fare. Classic downhome dishes like steamed shrimp, soft-shell crab, and freshly harvested local oysters have been delighting diners here on Hilton Head Island for decades. And through sustainable initiatives like Outside Foundation’s oyster shell recycling program, we’re working hard to ensure our coastal waters continue to yield a bountiful harvest for generations to come.

A key ingredient in a healthy salt marsh ecosystem, oyster shells contribute to marine habitats, enhance water quality, and create natural breakwaters to prevent shoreline erosion. Each shell returned to the ocean yields around ten new oysters in turn, and a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day. But it’s not quite as simple as tossing your leftover shells right back into the water; they need to be properly sanitized and dried for six months first. To do this, our community has established two shell collection points at the Coastal Discovery Museum and Trask Landing to make the most of this vital renewable resource.

A Helping Hand for Hatchlings

Vacation-goers aren't the only ones who flock to our corner of the Lowcountry each year. From May through October, Hilton Head Island also plays host to endangered loggerhead sea turtles who come to nest on our shores. Last year alone, sea turtles laid 353 nests on the island, and our community has rallied together to help keep these ancient mariners and their young hatchlings safe during their time here.

Local volunteer organizations like Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island conduct morning patrols, marking and monitoring nests and spreading awareness about how visitors can do their part to protect these gentle ocean giants. Because artificial lighting can disrupt the turtles’ natural sense of direction, houses and buildings visible from the beach are required to turn off exterior lights and cover windows after dark, helping hatchlings get the best possible start on their perilous 70-mile swim to reach the Gulf Stream waters.


Unforgettable Eco Tours

Here on Hilton Head Island, we believe that one of the most effective ways to encourage environmental stewardship is by inspiring a lifelong love of the great outdoors — and what better way to do that than on an eco-tour? From nature walks led by expert local guides to once-in-a-lifetime dolphin encounters, you’ll find plenty of ways to immerse yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Explore the creeks, marshes, and inlets of Calibogue Sound on a kayaking expedition. Take a horseback ride through the splendor of the sprawling, 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Or treat your whole crew to a catamaran cruise for an environmentally friendly sailing adventure you’ll be reminiscing about for years to come.

pd kayaks

Giving Back to the Great Outdoors

When it comes to caring for our delicate coastal habitat, we all have a part to play. Embrace sustainability on your next visit to the Lowcountry by making The Hilton Head Island Promise. This community-wide commitment offers a simple, easy-to-follow framework for vacationing with a softer footprint, helping to keep our beaches, dunes, and marine life healthy and clean.

Interested in lending a helping hand as we work toward a greener tomorrow? Join a team of more than 1,350 sustainability volunteers with Outside Foundation, a local non-profit on a mission to protect our coastal environment for future generations. From community clean-up days to reef rehabilitation efforts, there are plenty of exciting and rewarding projects you can get involved with, including family-friendly activities that are sure to inspire budding young naturalists.

A Getaway in Harmony With Nature

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of the great outdoors — while also doing your part for the planet — on an eco-inspired Lowcountry vacation. From bicycle adventures to turtle-friendly beach days, you’ll find so many wonderful ways to experience nature here on Hilton Head Island. Explore our special offers, and start planning your dream green getaway today!

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