The sea turtles of Emerald Isle have fascinated me since we moved to North Carolina. This year there was a record of 51 nests found on EI. Turtle programs are found from Florida to North Carolina. I will begin this post by saying that I don’t have first-hand knowledge of this program. The only Loggerhead that I have ever seen was at the aquarium. Much of this post is written from internet sources, my nest-site observations and from friends that are involved in the program. This is a long post but hopefully, it will help you to understand how the turtle program works.
Thanks to Kevin Geraghty and Valerie Rohrig, both Emerald Isle residents and turtle patrol folks, for sharing your photos for this post. Click on any photo to bring up a slideshow of all the photos on the post. There is a video at the very end of the post.Starting in May, the beaches which may have sunbathers during the day, have night visitors. No, not scary night visitors, unless you have never seen a turtle that weighs over 200 pounds. They can probably be pretty scary looking, especially at night, as they come lumbering out of the sea to lay their eggs. They dig a hole in the sand (1 to 2 feet deep), deposit approximately 100 to 150 eggs that are about the size of a ping pong ball. Then they cover the nest and lumber back into the sea, leaving only a “turtle track” to show where they have been. The turtle may lay 4 to 7 clutches in a season, returning every couple of weeks to lay more eggs. The eggs incubate for about 50 to 60 days. When the water temperature starts to cool again, she leaves our coast in search of food and a place to hang out until it is time to nest again which will probably not be for a couple of years.
So mama has left the beach! What’s next? What comes next is almost as amazing as those turtles laying their eggs. The Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program and all the wonderful and caring volunteers take over.
The following information was taken from the Sea Turtle Program brochure. Because loggerhead sea turtles are a threatened species, the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program tries to locate and protect the nest sites and help the hatchlings return to the surf. The program is comprised of about 80 volunteers who walk the entire 12.5 miles of the Emerald Isle beach early each morning from May 1 through August 31 searching for evidence of sea turtles that may have come ashore during the night to lay their eggs. The 200-350 pound sea turtles leave characteristic crawl marks in the sand up to 40 inches in width.
The walkers call in their discoveries and program coordinators check for the possible presence of eggs. If visitors see a turtle or tracks left by one, they are asked to call the Emerald Isle Police, who will notify the volunteers 24/7. The nest sites are marked off by flagging tape and a large yellow post with the nest number on it. Because these are threatened species, the program is not permitted to advertise the exact locations of nests nor the dates of hatching. However, the stakes and flagging are clearly visible along the beach. The incubation period is anywhere from 50 to 60 days. As hatching time nears, the volunteers dig a trench about two feet deep and two feet wide, to help guide the hatchlings to the ocean. The flagging is extended along the trench. It is asked that you do not disturb these trenching areas. No one knows when the hatchling will come out of the nest, so once the trench has been dug, volunteers will start sitting at the nest from dusk to around midnight.
Hatchlings can come out anytime once the sand gets cool and it is quiet. They can hear vibrations in the sand from noise and movement around the nest. They do not normally emerge during the day because of predators and the extreme heat of the beach sand. Nests have hatched during rain storms because the sand cools and it gets darker. The trenches will help guide the hatchling toward the ocean. A hatchling will go toward the brightest thing they see which is lights on homes, the pier and street lights. At night, crabs will try to get the hatchlings. A hatchling has enough energy to swim for 4‐5 days to make it to the Gulf Stream….a distance of 30 to 50 miles”.
If you come upon a hatching nest at night, it is requested that there be no flash photography, no flashlight (not even ones with red light), because of potential harm to the hatchlings….it distracts them and they will head toward your light.
In 3 days after the first hatchling emerges from a nest site, the volunteers conduct an excavation at the nest. Everything is dug up so the hatched egg shells can be counted, checked for undeveloped eggs, and to release any hatchlings that we not strong enough to emerge on their own”.
The following video by Kevin will show a hatching nest. This is what it is all about!!
Thanks to all the folks that volunteer to make this program a success. Thanks again, Kevin & Valerie. I could not have done this post without your photos. Click HERE to see more turtle videos on YouTube by Kevin.
Comments on this post are welcome, as always.