A romantic marriage proposal on a Hilton Head Island beach Tuesday night had an unintended consequence -- the death of about 60 federally protected loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.
A man had placed about 150 luminarias -- bags with a lit candle inside -- in the shape of a heart on the beach near Palmetto Dunes, according to volunteers with the Sea Turtle Project who monitor the nests.
After the proposal, the visiting couple apparently retired to their rental home without extinguishing the lights.
An estimated 60 baby sea turtles emerged from a nearby nest a short time later and became disoriented by the light, said Sarah Skigen, natural resources associate for the Town of Hilton Head Island and a turtle patrol volunteer.
The next morning, Skigen and others found tiny tracks heading in all directions, except toward the ocean. Some tracks repeatedly encircled the luminarias where the hatchlings succumbed either to weakness or ghost crabs. Others headed into the sand dunes, nearby lagoons and backyards.
One live hatchling was found, but it was so weak it is not expected to survive, Skigen said.
The couple received a warning from the town and a lecture from furious sea turtle volunteers. They showed remorse for what happened and said they had no idea about light restrictions in place from May through October for beachfront properties, according to Skigen. Placing luminarias on the beach also is forbidden by local laws.
Town code enforcement officers routinely patrol the beachfront after dark to enforce the lights-out policy. Most people comply after receiving a warning. The law carries a $1,092 fine for those who don't.
Read the full story at islandpacket.com.