The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sea Turtles

Nesting Nights: Hoping for a Glimpse

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of posts about Emily and Kerri Lynn's week-long trip to North Carolina in hopes of witnessing loggerhead sea turtles nesting.

Check out last year's trip to see sea turtles hatching. Stay tuned for more updates this week.

Greetings! Oceana science fellow Kerri Lynn Miller and I are down on Bald Head Island, NC hoping to witness female loggerhead sea turtles laying their eggs.

Yesterday evening we attended the Bald Head Island Conservancy’s sea turtle talk and spoke about Oceana’s work to protect sea turtles. We asked folks to sign postcards telling the government to put turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in all trawl fisheries in the U.S., which accidentally capture hundreds of sea turtles every year.

After the talk ended, around 9:45, several dozen of us with red-cellophane-wrapped flashlights headed to the beach in the hopes of seeing a female come ashore. Spoiler alert: we didn’t see one. But hey, it was only the first night.

We waited until almost midnight on the beach stargazing and talking turtles with Anna, one of the BHIC’s six sea turtle interns this season. She clutched a walkie talkie, hoping to get word from the other interns patrolling the beach on utility vehicles that they’d come across a turtle.

Around 11:30 her radio crackled – “Anna, can you hear me?” the voice said. A long pause, and all of us were suddenly on the edge of our sandy blanket.


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At Sea Turtle Rehab

kemp's ridley sea turtle at turtle hospital in topsail island, nc

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

I’m back from Bald Head Island, NC – but fear not, there’s one last adventure to report. One of my last days down there, I drove to Topsail Island, which is a short drive up the coast, to see Jean Beasley’s famed turtle hospital (named after her daughter Karen).

Beasley, who won Animal Planet’s 2007 hero of the year award, is a teacher-turned-turtle activist whose hospital started as a single injured turtle under a tent in her backyard in the mid-‘90s.

The “hospital” is a small warehouse with about 20 pools of varying sizes and depths, each containing an injured sea turtle. Staffed by around 70 volunteers, (plus 150 helping with nesting on the beach), the hospital currently houses three species of sea turtles – loggerheadsgreens, and Kemp's ridleys.


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Waiting for Hatchlings, Part 4

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

[Several days after Day 2]

It’s the end of my week here at Bald Head Island, and I think it goes without saying (if you’ve read any of the previous posts), it’s been a great trip. I’ve been especially lucky with nest #89.


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Waiting for Hatchlings, Part 3

sea turtle hatchling

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

Day 2 (later that day)

After the morning of nest excavations, Cory and I catch up on sleep for a few hours. Before we know it, it’s time to check in with loggerhead nest #89 again.

Out on the beach the haloed moon is astonishingly bright, and seems to be directly in front of the turtle nest’s sand runway. There’s no question that if the turtles make it out alive, they’ll know where to go. By 8:30, a crowd of 15 people or so has gathered around the nest.

The two women from Kansas and Colorado are here again, and there are some newcomers, including a couple from Wisconsin. “How do they breathe under there? They’re buried alive!” the wife cries. Around 9, the sand starts to move.

Every few minutes, Donna the nest monitor says, “Did you see that?” The sand is moving, or “simmering,” in sea turtle-speak, a reference to what happens when all the turtles come pouring out of the nest – a “full boil.” I find it strange that we use cooking terms for this.


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Waiting for Hatchlings, Part 2

© Oceana/Cory Wilson

[Day 1 refresher: abandoning Cory on the beach around midnight, I drive the golf cart home sleepily and collapse in bed, filling my sheets with sand because I’m too tired and lazy to wash off my feet.]

Day 2

At 5:45 my alarm goes off. It’s already time to go back to the beach, only this time there’s almost no chance I’ll be seeing any live sea turtles. I’m going to see Maureen (Bald Head Island Conservancy's head naturalist) and several volunteers perform two nest excavations, which are exactly what they sound like – digging up nests to see what’s inside.

In this case, the nests are long overdue to hatch, and Maureen says it’s not worth wasting any more of the nest monitors’ time and energy – it’s time to find out what’s going on under the sand. She warns Cory and me that it probably won’t be pretty (read: dead babies), but that we’re welcome to come along.

At the moment my alarm goes off, I think, “Sleep - or dead baby sea turtles?” I nearly choose the first, but force myself out the door. It’ll be like digging for buried treasure, I tell myself. (Except with the potential to be heartbreaking.)


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