Did you know that the Outer Banks is one of the northernmost nesting locations for sea turtles? In early to mid summer female sea turtles start to come ashore to lay their eggs, which hatch 55-80 days later. This means that fall is hatchling season!
The most common species of sea turtle found on Outer Banks beaches is the Loggerhead. Green turtles are also common, while Kemp’s Ridley, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, and Leatherbacks are very rare. All sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which means that it is illegal to disturb or harass them in any way.
Sea turtles generally come out of the water at night to nest. They don’t have great eyesight, but they can see light and movement. This means that light pollution and commotion on the beaches during nesting season can cause females to abandon laying their eggs. Since turtles only breed every two to three years and only one in 1000 sea turtles survives to maturity, it’s incredibly important to conserve both their numbers and their habitat.
One of the ways that turtle nests are located is by the “crawl” that the female leaves behind. This track is a unique pattern made by the turtle’s movements in the sand, and often it can lead researchers and volunteers directly to the nest. However, females will also occasionally move around after laying eggs in an attempt to mask the location of the nest. Sometimes they’ll come ashore but not lay eggs at all, so the crawl doesn’t always mean there is a nest in the area containing viable eggs.
What should you do if you come across a nest or a crawl on the beach? If the area surrounding the nest hasn’t been taped off, immediately call N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) at 252-441-8622. You should also give N.E.S.T. a call if you see a sea turtle hatchling where there aren’t already volunteers present.
Never disturb a nest or interfere with the turtles. Be respectful of the markers around nest sites – keep dogs and kids from going past markers. After you enjoy a day on the beach, be sure to fill in holes and knock down sandcastles, both of which may turn into deadly roadblocks for turtle hatchlings who are trying to make it to the ocean. Picking up litter helps everyone, but especially look out for balloons, plastic, and styrofoam since they all resemble things that sea turtles eat.
N.E.S.T. has counted 20 sea turtle nests up and down the Outer Banks this year. That could mean between 1500 and 3000 turtles hatching on our beaches in the next month! Odds are only two or three of them will reach full maturity, so it’s important that we do everything we can to make sure they get off to a good start.
For more information about sea turtles, visit N.E.S.T.’s website.