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In loving memory

The first sea turtle nest of 2022 honors local legend Scott Liggett.

Story by Amber Hester Kuehn

Amber Hester Kuehn is the director of Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island. Learn more at SeaTurtlePatrolHHI.org.

The first sea turtle each season is highly anticipated and serves to announce the arrival of hundreds of loggerheads just offshore. They approach Hilton Head’s beach nightly, starting sometime in early May. Each leaves an average of 120 eggs in a two-foot-deep hole dug by her back flippers. She fills the holes with eggs and sand. Early the next morning, Sea Turtle Patrol HHI volunteers record and mark the new nests to protect them from high tides or interference by beachgoers, sometimes moving them to safer locations. 

It is truly an amazing experience to witness a 400-pound sea turtle pulling her body up the beach with flippers, essentially with her elbows and shoulders. Her instinct will guide her, and survival will motivate her. This primal act has existed for millions of years. The reaction of those who are fortunate enough to see her is profound. It is like unveiling a secret that the planet has been keeping from you. There’s an overwhelming sense of reverence for a ritual so ancient. 

Respect for the environment underlies my purpose in life, and I thrive when I am in the presence of others who are like-minded. I was fortunate to find a mentor who understood my unwavering dedication and would teach me how to accomplish my goals. A mentor is a teacher who truly wants to see you succeed; encourages you, but also reins you in. A mentor makes you think for yourself; guides you but does not carry you. 

Scott Liggett, director of public projects and facilities for the Town of Hilton Head, was my contract supervisor for the 2016 Hilton Head Island Beach Renourishment Project. Sea Turtle Patrol HHI was on the beach all hours of the night that summer to watch for sea turtles in the way of bulldozers. Construction was halted when a sea turtle approached the construction zone, and the eggs were moved to a safe location. It was a massive endeavor and a huge learning experience. 

My persistent interest in all things having to do with Hilton Head beaches had sometimes added “fire” at town council meetings. Scott advised me, gave me the background information that I needed, directed me to speak to the right people, and charted a path for my passion to create environmental awareness. 

Many of my achievements started with his advice, but he didn’t get to celebrate the passing of my beach-front lighting ordinance revision or the installation of The Myrtle Project statue at Coligny. I should have written it all down, but I remember the most important things I learned from Scott: Never abandon your mission, keep humor in it, always be patient, and smile really big when someone wants your opinion, and you have nothing good to say. That says it all. 

Sea Turtle Nest No. 1 appeared on Sea Pines beach May 5. It was specially marked and respectfully dedicated to Scott Liggett, 1964-2021.