For the next two months, while more than two miles of beach in Sea Pines gets pumped with sand, one woman has been tasked with protecting the sea turtles in the area.
Starting this week, Amber Kuehn, manager of the Hilton Head Island Sea Turtle Protection Project, will begin following a schedule similar to the nocturnal nesters she will be on the lookout for.
From 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. every night of the week, Kuehn’s “sea turtle ambulance” will be parked in the Tower Beach parking lot. Every hour, on the hour, Kuehn will walk the beach’s construction zone, keeping her eyes peeled for any nesting sea turtles approaching the beach.
“It’s not a hard job; it’s just the hours,” said Kuehn, who lives in Bluffton. “The hard part is adjusting to the schedule.”
The South Island Emergency Beach Fill project began this week. As part of the project, about 300,000 cubic yards of sand will be pumped in along about 12,000 feet of Atlantic shoreline.
The project will extend from beach marker 12 near Brown Pelican Road to beach marker 34 near East Beach Lagoon Drive in Sea Pines.
Since the project takes place during the sea turtle nesting season, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fishery and Wildlife Service requires monitoring of turtles during any construction projects on the beach.
South Carolina’s nesting season officially begins in May and runs through October. Although the nesting sea turtles usually stop laying eggs in August, the hatchlings can appear until the end of October.
At the beginning of the nesting season, Kuehn and some Sea Turtle Protection Project volunteers relocated nests in the construction area to just north of the Sea Pines Beach Club so that the hatchlings wouldn’t be affected by the project.
Until Oct. 31, Kuehn will make sure that, if any female nesting turtles approach the beach, they do not get hurt or confused by the construction. If a turtle does approach the beach, Kuehn is in charge of shutting down the construction until the turtle is finished nesting.
“Nesting season usually ends at the end of August; however, there’s always a possibility of nesting turtles to come out of the water later,” she said.
The $3.8 million project will be similar to the island’s 2016 beach renourishment project, which involved replacing lost sand and re-establishing dunes, Scott Liggett, the town’s chief engineer and director of public projects and facilities, told The Island Packet previously.
During the island’s 2016 beach renourishment project, Kuehn worked with a team to monitor the beaches, but since the length of beach affected for this year’s project is much smaller, she is the only one on the job.