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Environmental protection is not an abstract concept in the Lowcountry. It's an everyday event. Or at least it should be.'
It should be a matter of teamwork, with everyone doing a little bit to help. Corporations and governments must be good stewards of the area's lush natural resources. But it also is important for individuals to get involved. Even visitors to Hilton Head Island need to take part. This is the time of year that counts most because so many visitors are interacting with nature here.'
For starters, visitors should become aware of local laws and abide by them. That is especially important on the waterways.'
The Town of Hilton Head Island has many ordinances designed to preserve local wildlife and plants. Visitors can read the highlights in visitors' guides, on the Internet or even on signs posted at many beach access points. The Coastal Discovery Museum offers a lot of educational programs about local wildlife, and visitors always are welcome.'
Live creatures should not be taken from the beach. That includes sand dollars, something that some unaware visitors haul from the beach by the bag full. Many conch shells are home to live creatures. They should be left alone.'
Litter on the beaches has been associated with damage to wildlife that gets entangled in it or tries to eat it. Litter also includes pet waste that can pollute local waterways. It always should be removed by the pet owner.'
A lot of effort is put into protecting the sea turtles that nest on island beaches. The public must know the laws that prohibit tampering with turtle nests. But they also should know that lights visible from the beach should be turned off or shaded to redirect the light between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. to keep turtle hatchlings from getting confused and heading away from the ocean.'
Visitors should know the federal laws that protect marine mammals. A veteran island cruise operator tells us, "I continue to be amazed at the number of people who call my office wanting to go on a dolphin-feeding cruise or want to go out and swim with or touch the dolphins."'
It would be helpful if more people who visit the Lowcountry knew that swimming and touching wild dolphins has been illegal since the federal Marine Mammals Protection Act was passed in 1972 and feeding a wild dolphin has been illegal since the act was amended in 1992.'
Feeding wildlife, including alligators, is prohibited because it alters their natural behavior, making them dependent on handouts and unafraid of humans. That can make alligators very dangerous. All wild animals may bite and injure those who try to feed them.'
Wildlife should not be tormented or harassed.'
Boat and personal watercraft operators must abide by "no wake" rules.'
Most environmental protection is common sense. Visitors should learn the rules, abide by them and tell others what is expected here.