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Hilton Head Island for the Nature Lovers: Wildlife and Conservation

By Hilton Head Insider

Each April, we celebrate Earth Month and invite nature lovers to share in our passion for preserving the outdoors and our region's wildlife. Hilton Head Island is America's first eco-planned community, prioritizing and protecting the Lowcountry's biodiversity. As stewards of the land, we offer an array of outdoor attractions and activities that deliver on our mission to uphold our environment — while making it fun for the whole family. From spotting native bird species flying high and seeing dolphins breaching the surface of Lowcountry waters to catching a glimpse of loggerhead sea turtle nests, we've compiled ways to engage with local wildlife safely. Plus, learn how we celebrate the environment through conservation efforts that help protect our ecosystem. So, bring your binoculars, pack your camera, and get set to take in the Lowcountry's rich natural wonders. 

Guided Eco-Tours On Water

Hilton Head Island is home to a collection of eco-tours that allow you to explore our abundant sea life. Available all year round, board a Dolphin & Nature Cruise and see Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins as well as a variety of shorebirds, including egrets, pelicans, and bald eagles. You can also opt for a more hands-on experience with Island Skiff boat tours. These tours allow you to operate a two-person skiff boat on a 25–30-mile adventure where you can see dolphins and other wildlife thriving in their natural habitat.

Depending on the time of day, you can encounter plenty of wildlife and dolphin activity. At low tide, you may be lucky enough to see the highly sophisticated dolphin process of strand feeding — Hilton Head Island is one of the only places in the world where you can see this. Book a beachcombing cruise or guided kayak nature tour through our tidal salt marshes with Outside Hilton Head to try to catch this phenomenon. Each of these water-bound activities will give you an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the marine life surrounding the Lowcountry.   


A Wonderland of Parks & Preserves

Calling all land dwellers and intrepid trekkers: you can enjoy emission-free exploration — whether biking or walking — through 60+ miles of interconnected leisure pathways. Take a walk or cycle through Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and cast your eyes to the sky for some migratory bird watching. This refuge is home to a nesting habitat, called a rookery, for colonial wading birds such as ibis, egrets, and herons. As you traverse the grounds, keep a lookout for warblers in the live oaks during winter, herons and painted buntings in the summer, and a whole host of other birds throughout the year. Before your next visit, read up on the vast collection of birds here. At Audubon Newhall Preserve, you’ll find 50 acres of protected land that over 140 bird species call home. Sanctuaries like these help preserve and protect precious local wildlife while inviting residents and visitors to make the most of the Lowcountry’s natural splendor.

Protecting Our Wildlife Through Conservation Efforts

There are many different conservationist groups and programs across Hilton Head Island. The Outside Foundation and its Oyster Shell Recycling & Reef Building Initiative help reinforce natural habitats and local ecosystems by providing a way for shells to return to the water, acting as attachments for new oysters. This process helps protect oysters from potential harm due to environmental changes. So far, the Foundation has collected and recycled over 100 tons of shells. If you're looking for a way to give back to our environment, the Foundation offers plenty of programs, including volunteer bagging, reef building, beach and waterway clean-up, and the annual Brand Creek Clean Festival. 

Small baby turtles on a beach.

While leatherbacks, Kemp's ridleys, and green sea turtles can sometimes be found swimming in Lowcountry waters, loggerhead sea turtles are the official state reptile of South Carolina. Visit between May and October to experience the sea turtle nesting season across 12 miles of our beautiful beaches. The success of each season is thanks in part to the Sea Turtle Patrol and their efforts to monitor sea turtles throughout the nesting season. They also help raise awareness through education and community outreach efforts, showing people how they can help keep our sea turtles safe. The Sea Turtle Patrol runs the Lights Out program, which requires residents to turn off their lights from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am, as artificial light distracts the turtles. Thanks to initiatives like these, you can observe an awe-inspiring time of year in a way that doesn’t impact these inspiring creatures. 

Passing On Our Sustainable Practices

These are just a few ways for the eco-friendly traveler to see and experience Hilton Head Island's wildlife while being respectful of their habitats. We encourage all our visitors to make The Hilton Head Island Promise and join us as stewards of this land. Together, we can help ensure our animal inhabitants thrive in the environment they call home. Looking to book your vacation this spring? It's easy to make the trip to the Lowcountry — browse our special offers on vacation packages, accommodations, activities, and more. 

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