The Turtle Trackers

Dedicated and Determined to Make a Difference


December 2020 Issue
by Jacie Elizabeth Millen  |  Photos provided by The Turtle Trackers

With a brisk beach walk and talk and brilliant brains colliding, the idea was born. In 2015, the conversation between Karen Kindermann and Amber Kuehn, alongside a bale of volunteers, the foundation of their idea turned into a reality, making Turtle Trackers what they are today. The Turtle Trackers is a 501(c)3 charity made up of volunteers from across Hilton Head Island and Bluffton. Their mission is to assist the Sea Turtle Patrol of Hilton Head Island and educate the public for the protection of our most precious locals, our sea turtle hatchlings heading to the ocean.

Starting with a small but fierce crew, the Turtle Trackers grew from a mere five or six gals  to more than 400 volunteers, men and women, and six chapters island wide. The group originated in Sea Pines but has made its way to Forest Beach, Shipyard, Palmetto Dunes, Singleton Beach, Port Royal and the North End, which is the chapter of trackers anyone can join.

These chapters go above and beyond to make a difference in the Lowcountry by providing redlight filters/flashlights for turtle safety, supporting regional conservation initiatives and participating in impactful beach sweep clean-up events throughout the year, just to name a few. Another daunting task they take on, not only for the safety of the turtles but also for tourists and locals alike, is filling in the huge holes people leave after a fun day of digging and building sandcastles on the beach. A human can fall and get hurt in these just as easily as the next sea turtle.

In an effort to educate, educate, educate, Turtle Trackers partners with local restaurants and businesses to attach educational flyers on pizza boxes, or to help distribute red filters at their checkout. In addition, they have reached out to rental companies to distribute doormats printed with “Lights Out” and magnets and stickers for the fridge to teach tourists proper beach etiquette.

The Turtle Trackers did not let the world happenings of 2020 interfere with progress. This dedicated group initiated a beach ordinance that passed, which details the perils caused by the huge holes left on the beach and how they are now forbidden. The Trackers Trackers donated the green turtle signs with the hole rules on them marked at most beach accesses to enforce this ordinance.

Proof of their dedication to their cause is demonstrated in their most recent accomplishment--winning silver in the “March to a Million” initiative created by South Carolina Aquarium in 2016. A Silver award means the Turtle Trackers were the second community group with the highest debris collected and documented--6,743 pieces of debris to be exact. While accepting this award, the Turtle Trackers never take their eyes off the prize, which is the sea turtles. This summer, the organization created a fun way to get people involved by creating the Turtle Trackers HHI Summer 2020 Challenge. The goal: Pick up and document over 2,000 pieces of trash and debris. Nearly 7,000 pieces of garbage were collected.

This phenomenal group never tires of their mission, which truly helps us all. The turtles are not the only ones getting loved on here; the Turtle Trackers are making “beach life” a beautiful and safe one.

All the volunteers are wonderful, but a few ladies lead the way and work incredibly hard, including Karen Kindermann, the founder, alongside Amber Kuehn. Amber is also a part of the 17-strong on the Sea Turtle Patrol of Hilton Head Island. A few other movers and shakers include Linda Zambelli, the current President, Lisa Pianta, the current VP and Barabara Faraci, the current treasurer and upcoming 2021 president. These women, alongside the more than 400 volunteers, are devoted and committed to this cause and it shows. The next time you go to the beach and find it beautiful, thank the Turtle Trackers for their love for mother nature, compassion for sea life and dedication to our coastline.

Up Close:
Their 2021 Goals: The Turtle Trackers want to continue the education stations that were established pre-Covid to teach the public proper beach etiquette, how they can help and why it is so important. In addition, they will continue to emphasize the light ordinance for beachfront rental properties and how serious it is. And, of course, they want to welcome more members to get involved and join the group.

Turtle Tips:

1) Beachfront Lights Out 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. May through October
2) Red Flashlights ONLY
3) Fill holes in on the beach
4) Leave turtle nests undisturbed