Loggerhead sea turtles are nesting in record numbers this season, much to the delight of conservationists who’ve been trying to boost the species for decades.
Females typically have a big year with multiple nests, followed by a year or two with fewer nests. This season’s cycle has been strong across the Southeast, with North Carolina alone documenting more than 2,127 nests.
Serious efforts to help the species started about 30 years ago, so it’s likely that the hatchlings that were encouraged back then are among the mature females coming ashore to nest today. The turtles are sexually mature at age 25-30. Also, since the mid-1980s, shrimp trawlers operating in nearshore waters have been required to use turtle excluding devices, reducing unintentional deaths.
The subspecies of loggerheads found in the Carolinas is officially listed as “threatened.”
“We’ve been sitting here on the beach for 13 nights,” said Marie Wilson, a volunteer with the Oak Island Sea Turtle Protection Program. “I was so happy when they came out.”
They were joined by nearly 200 onlookers.
Wilson, Linda Hunter and Brenda Lepter took an inventory of nest number 17 Friday evening. After the initial hatch, called a boil, volunteers wait roughly 72 hours, then dig up the nest and count hatched eggs, unhatched eggs and any remaining hatchlings, dead or alive. These statistics are compiled to keep a detailed record of the health of the species (see more at www.seaturtle.org).
“It’s been crazy this year,” said Jacci Hohnstein, coordinator for the Oak Island program. “The volunteers are going from nest to nest to nest. They’re doing great, and we’ve had to break up some of the teams because we’re so busy.”
Oak Island has set a new record of 154 nests so far, and turtles are still coming ashore. The volunteers also discovered an undocumented nest that hatched Friday.
On Sunday, Hohnstein, Kirk Davis and Bruce Ivers inventoried nest number 19 on the western part of the beach. As the crowd gathered, the trio unearthed a live straggler that made its way to the ocean alone.
Caswell Beach’s nest count is up to a record of 98. On Bald Head Island, the count of 165 is also a record.
Fox predation of nests has been a problem on Oak Island, so volunteers are covering sites with a wire mesh. After about 55 days, they’ll also camp out in the evening to possibly see the hatch and ward off crabs, foxes or other predators.
The turtle programs at Caswell Beach and Oak Island regularly update their Facebook pages. Details about Bald Head Island’s program are at www.bhic.org.