The Beacon

Blog Tags: Sea Turtles

Nesting Nights: Rehab Redux

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the last in a series of six blog posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting. The most recent post was about a full loggerhead nesting.

After witnessing our first full loggerhead nesting, we woke up early, drank some much-needed coffee, then drove over to Jean Beasley’s Sea Turtle Hospital on Topsail Island, NC. After visting last year, I was curious to see how things had changed.

When we arrived, Jean and her team of interns were saying a tearful goodbye to a loggerhead sea turtle, Coastie, who died that morning after getting surgery at NC State in Raleigh.

“We can’t save them all, but we do the best we can,” Beasley told the group of solemn students ranging from middle-school to college age.

Currently housing 22 sea turtles, the hospital is getting too big for its britches. Everywhere you look, including the bathroom, are pools with sea turtles in them. A new, much bigger facility is in the works, but Beasley said she’s far from having the funding needed to complete the project.


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Nesting Nights: The Real Thing

loggerhead nesting

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of blog posts from Emily and Kerri Lynn's trip to North Carolina to watch loggerhead sea turtles nesting. The most recent post was about beach erosion.

As promised, I have more to report on our expedition to Bald Head Island, NC. After 3 nights on the island, Kerri Lynn and I had seen a female loggerhead's false crawl and the end of a female nesting.

With only one night remaining, we were really hoping to see the whole nesting process. We got our chance on the fourth night at 2 a.m. When we got to the beach it was starting to rain, and there was no moon in sight.

The interns told us that they had seen five sets of tracks -- all false crawls -- two of which they think were this female, since the tracks appeared similar. The turtle was at work digging her egg chamber, but we stayed at a distance to make sure we didn’t scare her off.

We stayed quiet and still, waiting for her to go into the nesting “trance” to get closer. We all turned our flashlights off, and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could see glints of bioluminescent algae on her shell.

As soon as she started dropping eggs into the chamber, the interns gave us the go-ahead to get closer. They got busy measuring her shell and checking her for tagging IDs while we watched the eggs drop into the sandy pit she’d neatly dug. There was a noticeable chunk taken out of the back of her shell. The interns guessed that a predator had taken a bite when she was a juvenile.


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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.


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Nesting Nights: Lucky 13

nesting loggerhead

© 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.


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Nesting Nights: A Bumpy Ride

© Oceana/Jeff Janowski

Editor's note: This is the second 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.

Last night I learned what it’s like to be an all-night sea turtle patroller. Okay, so I only did it for a little more than an hour, but I think I got the idea.

Kerri Lynn and I joined the BHI turtle interns on their patrol rounds on the beach, which start at 9 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. The patrols are crucial to the on-the-beach conservation process. The interns tag the females, take measurements, and mark the location of the nests to build protective cages over them to keep out foxes and other predators.

Plus, they relocate a nest if it is laid on a vulnerable section of beach. So far this year, they’ve had to relocate a whopping nine of the twelve nests mainly due to beach erosion.


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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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