As area beaches inch toward record-setting sea turtle nest numbers, excitement on the strand remains high among residents and visitors hoping to get a glimpse of the region’s favorite reptiles.

“This will be the year that we are still talking about 15 years from now,” predicted Susan Holbrooks, a coordinator of the Caswell Beach Sea Turtle Protection Program. Both Caswell and Oak Island had their first hatches of the season Friday and volunteers excavated the nests Monday. 

At Caswell, nest one laid May 14 yielded roughly 60 hatchlings at first, said Coordinator Gary Holbrooks. Thunderstorms on Saturday kept the team from thoroughly monitoring the nest that day. 

Dozens of beach-goers flocked to Caswell’s first nest Monday, located just east of the Oak Island Golf Course. The practice is to wait 72 hours after the first hatch, then dig in to inventory exactly how many eggs hatched and whether all the hatchlings made it up and out to the ocean. 

In this case, two volunteers deftly dug with gloved hands, while a third kept tabs on the numbers. The crowd became visibly moved as seven living stragglers were placed on the sand, framed by the green landscaping edging used to help direct the babies to the water. 

One volunteer, Savanna Neb, is a marine biologist studying to obtain her master’s degree. She said she’d seen baby turtles before, but Monday was the first time she’d seen live baby loggerhead sea turtles. 

Loggerheads that nest in this area are a subspecies considered threatened. Scientists track the nesting females with the help of volunteers, who collect a single egg from each nest for an ongoing study of DNA. From the study, coordinated at the University of Georgia, we know that the same females sometimes lay multiple nests in some years. 

Volunteers kept the crowd back from the dune and the water when the turtles made their way to the ocean. 

As of press time, there were 90 documented nests on Caswell Beach and 135 at Oak Island. The Bald Head Island Conservancy reported 139 nests. 

The sale of shirts and other turtle-related gear helps defray the expenses involved with monitoring sea turtle nests. At Oak Island, persons may visit the Recreation Center to make purchases. At Caswell Beach, turtle (and lighthouse) gear is available at Town Hall. Sales of items at the Turtle Central gift shop on Bald Head Island benefit the Bald Head Island Conservancy, which tags and protects turtles. 

The retail spaces also have information for those interested in adopting nests. The Conservancy is holding an auction to adopt what is expected to be the nest setting 30-year record (number 144). To learn more, visit www.BHIC.org/Adopt.