By Luana M. Graves Sellars

There’s no question that our Lowcountry area of Bluffton and Hilton Head are well known and recognized for its beauty as well as being among the best places in the country to live, retire and vacation. You don’t have to look far to find how the area does; just check out what the Hilton Head Chamber website says: 

  • Forbes names Bluffton as one of the “Top 25 Places to Retire in 2016”
  • Old Town Bluffton is named in USA Today’s Most Picturesque Small Towns in Every State
  • names Hilton Head Island among its “Best Family Beaches”
  • Named in Trip Advisor’s “Top 10 Best Islands in the United States”
  • Hilton Head Island’s new gold status, as the only “Gold Award” bike-friendly community in South Carolina, places it in the League of American Bicyclists’ top 25 bike-friendly communities nationwide.
  • Hilton Head Island named the Golf Destination of the Year for North America for 2016 by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO)
  • Hilton Head Island was Chosen as #2 Island in U.S. and Canada in Travel & Leisure Magazine’s World’s Best awards

Whew! That’s a lot to be proud of! And I know, I know, I’m not telling you anything that you didn’t already know, right? If you’re reading this, you either already live here full time or you are one of the part-timers who split your time between here and somewhere cold, or you are on vacation, and you just discovered our well-known piece of paradise. Either way, you shouldn’t be surprised by how this area ranks among the top islands in almost every category that you can think of. Our strength is as a tourist and resort destination, which makes the area an important part of South Carolina”s economy, and. one of the most vibrant areas in the United States. 

People from around the world, are flocking to this area. Everyone knows that. But did you know that Sea Turtles are flocking to the area as well, and that Hilton Head is also the second-largest nesting area for endangered Sea Turtles in SC?  

The problem is that tourists and Sea Turtles need to co-exist, and they are both drawn to the same spaces but for very different reasons. Tourists are drawn to the beach for sunshine and leisure; Sea Turtles are drawn to the beach for propagation and survival. This means that the tourists and Sea Turtles have competing needs, and this can create environmental problems and conflict on a number of levels. 

Photo Credit: Linda Peterson

Economics and the Environment Makes Strange Bedfellows

Hilton Head Island has the significant challenge of managing and maintaining the delicate balance between serving as an important economic tourist/residential tax base for the state, while also being an important and substantial ecological habitat for endangered Sea Turtles. Additional environmental challenges that the Island faces results from our constantly changing topography, and rising sea levels which are both effects of climate change and global warming. These are issues and conversations that cannot be ignored. Globally, as well as locally, we need to establish sensitivity to the changes in the environment, and strategies for sustaining it. According to Albert A. George II, the Director of Conservation for the South Carolina Aquarium, “With climate change/sea level rise, Hilton Head Island needs to be concerned with not only dry land loss (due to sea-level rise and increased tidal and storm surge), but also the increased likelihood of Salt Water Intrusion impacting its Fresh Water Security.”

Hurricane Matthew was a major wakeup call to most of us. The fallen trees might be removed, but the memories of the storm’s impact on our island will continue to be felt for years to come. George says, “If Hilton Head Island is adversely impacted, it would have major implications for the economic, tourism, and conservation interests of SC.” This brings us back to the problems faced by Sea Turtles.

April is Earth Month, and the Sea Turtle nesting season is from May to August. There are things all of us can do to help the environment, and the Sea Turtles. This year, let’s be more intentional about how we respond to the environment. Instead of making resolutions that will be ignored almost as soon as they are made, how about starting habits that will help us sustain our slice of paradise? Start by sorting your garbage into paper, glass, bottles and other bagged trash. If each of us made recycling a part of our daily routine, together we could reduce the carbon footprint for the island. 

What can we do for the turtles? During their nesting season, please observe the rules of the beach: turn all lights on the beach off, so that you don’t disorient them as they navigate their way back to the water and if you dig a hole during the day, please fill it in so that they don’t fall in. Lastly, please don’t leave any garbage behind on the beach! Garbage left behind is a problem for humans and turtles! 

“If we do what’s best for the endangered Sea Turtle habitat and the Salt Marshes we will also protect and preserve the human habitat located unfortunately, in many cases, in very close proximity,” said George. Our area deserves its award-winning recognition, but we need to do our part to sustain and maintain the Island’s beauty and viability for tourists, residents, and Sea Turtles. Humans and turtles can live together, if we respect each other’s home and work to protect it. That works for me!  

Click here for more about Hilton Head Island | Lowcountry People and Places | Bradley Beach – The Story Behind the Name | Burkes Beach – The Family Behind the Name

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