It’s shaping up to be a banner year for sea turtle nests in the area and state. Nesting on Oak Island alone has been so intense that one female literally crawled over another’s nest to lay her own.
“It’s been crazy,” said turtle program coordinator Jacci Hohnstein. “In one day, we had six nests.” Daily morning patrols physically confirm nests and take one egg for DNA testing. The patrol members also determine whether a turtle actually laid eggs or just came ashore and left, called a “false crawl.”
The number of nests and false crawls has been so high that as many as six people are needed every morning to do the job.
As of June 28 last season, there were 30 nests on Oak Island. This year, there were 91 on that date, putting activity on track to break the record of 115 nests in 2017.
“The numbers at all of the beaches are up, which is great for the turtles,” Hohnstein said.
A fox destroyed 16 eggs in one nest and foxes have been seen snooping around at least one other nest, so volunteers have placed wire cages over four nests for protection.
Last year, volunteers had to relocate more than half of the nests, in part because of a late-season beach renourishment project on the eastern part of the island. This year, volunteers have moved roughly one out of every four nests, mainly to keep them from being inundated by high tides or away from unstable faces of the dune that could collapse are bury the eggs too deeply.
Hohnstein said nest volunteers could start seeing hatchlings as soon as mid-July. Visitors to the beach interested in seeing the turtles hatch should look for nests where volunteers have erected landscaping edging to help steer the babies toward the ocean.
Anyone who sees a turtle laying a nest is asked to remain quiet and not use flash photography or shine lights on the turtle. Keep a respectful distance and watch the show, Hohnstein said.
Beach-goers are asked to pick up litter, remove tents, chairs and other gear at the end of the day and minimize artificial lighting at night.
One of the best ways to help the turtles is to fill in sand holes and level off sandcastles at the day’s end, Hohnstein said.
She noted that the nesting cycle typically involves a busy year, followed by fewer nests for the next season or two.
“We’re excited that, hopefully, the species is growing,” she said.
As of press time, there were 100 nests on Bald Head Island, 92 nests at Oak Island and 65 at Caswell Beach. Statewide, there are 1,240 nests so far this season.