Sea turtle season picks up along Bogue Banks

Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Team member Carol Ohmstede shows sea turtle nest 10 to others. Team members urge beachgoers to avoid nests, keep the beach clean and fill in holes they dig. (Contributed photo)

EMERALD ISLE — Sea turtle nesting season has reportedly rebounded to a good level after a slow start this year in the westernmost town on Bogue Banks.

As of mid-day Thursday, there have been 10 nests spotted on the beach in Emerald Isle, up from zero in late May. All have been loggerheads.

“I’m pleased with where we are now,” said Dale Baquer, head of Emerald Isle’s volunteer sea turtle team. “I think now it should be a good season.”

In 2016, when there were a record 52 nests in Emerald Isle during the season, there were 20 as of July 1. In 2017, an average year, there were four by July 1, and in 2018, there were five nests at that time. Last summer, by July 1 Emerald Isle had 20 nests and ended with 43.

Ms. Baquer is concerned, however, that with heavy travel over the Fourth of July and the rest of the summer,some visitors might not be aware of the need to help turtles come to the shore to nest.

Already, she said, there have been problems with people on the beach digging big holes and leaving them unfilled – the turtles can get trapped in them – and leaving equipment on the beach overnight, which can impede the turtles’ nocturnal progress to and from the ocean.

“It seems to be a problem this year,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of holes and a lot of equipment.”

Ms. Baquer said the turtle team members get a lot of calls about how people can help, and she’s encouraging filling holes and collecting litter.

“We had to cancel our annual cleanup because of (the novel coronavirus), because of big gatherings being prohibited, but we’re encouraging families to get out and do it” in small groups, she said.

It’s a teachable family moment, as parents can take their kids out to help do the work and explain they are helping turtles, which are a big part of the coastal environment and wildlife, she noted.

So far in North Carolina, state figures show that as of Wednesday, 640 sea turtle nests have been spotted on the beaches. Six were at Atlantic Beach, six in Indian Beach/Salter Path and six in Pine Knoll Shores. At Hammock’s Beach State Park, across Bogue Inlet from Emerald Isle in Onslow County, there were seven nets.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission also urges folks to help out by keeping beaches clean and shielding or turning off lights at night along the oceanfront.

“People on the beach after dark should refrain from using flashlights or cellphones,” the WRC said in a recent news release. “Bright, artificial light can deter females from coming on to shore to nest and can disorient sea turtle hatchlings, causing them to wander inland, where they often die of dehydration or predation.”

The release echoed Ms. Baquer’s statements about filling in holes and picking up trash and equipment and warned against building campfires at night.

The release urges anyone who encounters a turtle on the beach at night to remain quiet, still and at a distance. It also encourages viewers to avoid using a flash to take photos.

Also in the release, Dr. Matthew Godfrey, the WRC’s sea turtle biologist, urges people to leave the tracks left by sea turtles undisturbed. He and other biologists, as well as sea turtle volunteers, use the tracks to identify the species of turtle and to find and mark the nests for protection.

Anyone who finds a dead or injured sea turtle on land or in the water is asked to call the N.C. Sea Turtle Hotline at 252-241-7367, so arrangements can be made to respond.

The top two nesting regions in the state so far have been Cape Lookout National Seashore with 103 and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Dare County with 104.

Of the total of 640 nests, 629 have been from loggerhead sea turtles. Four have been laid by green turtles, six by Kemp’s ridleys – the rarest species – and one was listed as unknown.

In 2019, sea turtles laid a record 2,358 sea turtle nests on North Carolina beaches.

To follow the nesting season and learn about the number of eggs laid and the success rate as the season progresses, visit seaturtle.org/nestdb/?view=1.

 

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

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