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  • Turtle tracks... come and gone

  • The summer has pretty much come and gone, just like our mama sea turtles. August 31 was the official end of our nesting season, not that sea turtles are much for reading calendars. Even with detailed records back through the ‘80s we can never predict what kind of numbers we’ll end up with once the gals leave our beaches. It turns out that this is a banner year for sea turtle nesting in North Carolina, and with a final count of 82 nests here on the island it’s a pretty good one for us.
    This year our nesting mamas appeared to be on some sort of self-imposed early deadline. During the entire month of August only three of them ventured ashore: Loggerheads on the 1st and 12th, and a big Green mama on the 27th. Topsail is pretty much Loggerhead territory, so when that set of very large and very distinctive tracks appeared on the beach one morning the words “we have a Green!” traveled quickly. That Green is only the third one known to visit us in the past decade.
    As usual, our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers will continue to sit the nests that have yet to hatch. But because the nesting ended so early Terry Meyer, our Director of Beach Operations expects that 95 percent of them will have hatched by the end of this month. That doesn’t mean our volunteers are off the hook quite yet, as they still monitor the incubating nests for signs of predators and other damage. We’ve had foxes with a taste for turtle eggs for years, but this year a coyote (or maybe more than one) has found a new, favorite snack. We’ve tried several kinds of barriers to outfox the foxes and beat the wily coyote. The heavy wire tops were pretty effective, but an experiment using the orange construction fencing resulted in a pile of shredded pieces, and probably a snickering coyote.
    This is the third year we’ve participated in a DNA research study where one egg is taken from each nest and analyzed and recorded in hopes of determining nesting patterns of specific females. We are already seeing some interesting data about mamas that were identified during 2010 and returned this year to nest. And we’re getting closer to being able to answer one of the FAQs: “Do they come back to the same place?” In a related search for answers (“where do they go?”) a nesting mama named “Lauren” was satellite tagged by Michael Coyne. You can see where her travels took her by logging on to his website:
    Terry emphasized the importance the public plays in keeping us informed of sea turtle activity. She says that the number of calls and e-mails she receives regarding nesting mamas, hatching nests and wayward hatchlings increases every year as locals and tourists become more informed about and invested in our work. One notable incident occurred in North Topsail Beach when an individual returning home from work early one morning spotted a large Loggerhead way of course. After laying her eggs this lady continued over the dune, through a parking lot and was headed down the street. Quick action on the part of this concerned person, the local police and our volunteers soon had this girl back on the beach and headed in the right direction. Thanks and flipper hugs to all of you who helped in any way, at any time this summer.
    Page 2 of 3 - We are prohibited by law from disclosing exact locations of the nest, and we really don’t know when they’re going to hatch (really, we don’t, only the turtles know) so please don’t think we’re being deviously evasive if we can’t give you the particulars on a specific location or nest. Being there when it happens is a matter of luck. Just remember that our volunteers are in charge, and since these animals are federally protected you’ll need to listen to what they’re saying. With quite a few nests due to hatch during September we continue to rely on you to be our eyes on the beach as we can’t keep watch 24/7. Please report any and all local sea turtle activity (nestings, strandings, injured or sick turtles) immediately to our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880. Terry can be reached at: for non-emergencies. You can also call our Director, Jean Beasley (910-470-2800) or the hospital (910-328-3377) to report activity if you are unable to reach of Terry. All sea turtles are federally protected and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.
    Hospital tours have ended
    Our last day for summer tours was September 6, but you’ll have one more chance to visit us during the weekend of Autumn with Topsail (October 20 and 21). For the rest of this year we’ll be working on the logistics of moving the turtles, the staff and the tons of equipment needed for our work over to our new facility.
    Even though we’re closed you’re always welcome to stop by and peep in our windows to see what’s going on. If we’re not too busy we may have a chance to step outside to talk with you for a bit.
    Thanks to all of our visitors who continued to show up and support us with generous donations, despite the struggling economy. We are ever so grateful to those of you who have dropped cash and checks in our hands, bought your family’s wardrobe in our gift shop, adopted a patient (in some cases multiple patients) and taken our Family Giving Challenge. It’s because of your generosity and belief in what we do that we are able to continue our work. You can still keep track of what’s going on, and order merchandise by visiting our website:
    Questions, comments, suggestions?
    Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions regarding this column to me at To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address. If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list. You can also access the last newsletter from our website. The next issue, “How We Spent Our Summer” is in development and will be out sometime after we finish tours and settle back into our routine. This column now appears every other week until next spring, unless we have really exciting news to share!
    Page 3 of 3 - Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.
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