The Beacon

Nesting Nights: Shrinking Habitat

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting this week.

You may have noticed the lack of update yesterday – we were on the beach during the wee hours of Thursday morning watching another nesting mother (!), and then we drove over to the Topsail Island Sea Turtle Hospital for most of the day, so stay tuned for full posts (and photos) on those events next week.

But for today, I wanted to return to a recurring theme in this week’s adventure: beach erosion. When I came down to Bald Head last September to see loggerhead hatchlings, I didn’t hear a word about beach erosion. That’s not to say it wasn’t happening, but this time, it’s on everybody’s lips. The night we went on patrol with the sea turtle interns, they told us about one section of beach that is now inaccessible to patrol because exposed groynes, essentially enormous sandbags, make it perilous to drive over.

As a result, they walk that mile of eroded beach several times a night on foot looking for any nesting sea turtles. Any nest they find automatically requires relocation, though, because the beach is too narrow for a sea turtle to nest. Her eggs don’t stand a chance against the tide.

During the daytime we decided to take a look at the damage. Walking along the beach, it looks like a hurricane recently hit. There are wooden walkways leading to nowhere or simply broken, and scarps (beach cliffs) of up to eight feet high. It’s not a pretty sight, and it’s not what I think of when I picture Bald Head Island.

The erosion has coincided with the dredging of the Cape Fear shipping channel this spring by the Army Corps of Engineers. The channel has been dredged before, the difference this time is that the dredged sand was destined for a different beach under the current sand management plan.

The island’s residents have fought to raise the millions required to buy back their sand. The dredging-erosion conflict is not new, as you can see from this similar story from 1989. The question is whether this recurring problem will have a serious impact on the island’s sea turtle nesting numbers. Stay tuned for more stories on nesting and the Topsail sea turtle hospital.

Check out more sea turtle photos on Flickr.


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