The Beacon

Nesting Nights: Lucky 13

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts chronicling Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to find nesting loggerhead sea turtles. Read yesterday's update and stay tuned for more.

I could leave you in suspense about what happened last night, but I won’t because it’s too exciting. We saw a female loggerhead last night – the same one twice, in fact.

As usual we got to the beach around 10. We didn’t ride in the utility vehicles this time because the night before (a few hours after we left), Lola’s axle broke.

So we chatted with Brett, the BHIC’s sea turtle biologist, who showed us how to make the sand light up. Bald Head’s beach is bioluminescent at night, so when you take a step, your footprint is illuminated like the night sky for a few seconds. It kept the kids – and us – very entertained.

At 11 we saw a bright red headlamp light flickering 100 yards or so down the beach. Brett radioed the interns. No answer. The bouncing red light got closer, and turtle intern Anna came into view.

“Turtle!” she said. “But I think it’s gonna be a false crawl.” We dashed down the beach. We stopped when we spotted the dark oval on the side of the dune. She was, incredibly, climbing up a fairly steep dune. “She’s looking for dry sand,” said an intern. Her back flippers moved this way and that, shuffling sand around. She wasn’t moving upwards anymore, and with a red flashlight trained on her, we could see that she was dexterously moving sand aside with her back flippers.

“Oh my gosh, she’s digging her egg chamber,” said Brett. We watched, stunned, as this massive reptile carefully attempted to dig a hole for her eggs on the side of a dune.

About ten minutes later she gave up. Turning around, she seemed to fling herself down the dune, her head landing with a “thunk” on the flat beach. At that point she took off towards the water. The interns barely had enough time to scan her for a PIT tag (which is how they identified her both times) and she was back in the water.

“Hopefully she’ll come back tonight,” Brett said. And come back she did, about two hours later, after we’d gone to bed. The interns called us and we floored it in the golf cart back to the beach. When we arrived, there she was, in a much flatter, more sensible spot on the beach having already laid her eggs before we got there.

Now she was disguising the nest, flinging sand everywhere with her back flippers. She did this for quite some time, pausing to rest for a few minutes here and there. When she was satisfied with her work, she turned around and crawled back to the water.

When she was back in the water, the interns got to work finding the nest she had so cleverly disguised. When she started laying eggs, they had dropped a bobber with a piece of string tied to it. Now they searched for that piece of string, and finding it, they dug down until they got to an egg.

Gingerly, they felt around for the edge of the egg chamber, and from there determined the edges of the nest. They dug a rectangular moat around the nest, placed a wire cage over the nest, attached a BHIC tag on top of it, and staked an informational sign with our turtle’s lucky number: 13. It was a long night for her, but she made it. Let’s hope her eggs will too.

Wanna see more? See photos from the trip on our Flickr page.

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