With several weeks remaining in a busy sea turtle nesting season, beach visitors are reminded to follow a few tips to protect nests and hatchlings as they make their trek to ocean waters.
“Our sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered at this time. We work hard to keep their numbers up with healthy hatch rates until the end of the season. The public’s help is greatly appreciated,” said Emilie Zucker, a coordinator with the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program.
Volunteers with the program have seen a record number of nests this season along the town’s shoreline. And while many hatchlings have emerged from their nest and safely scrambled to their ocean home, a photo circulating on Facebook is a reminder that human activity on the beach can keep that from happening.
The photo showed a hatchling that died after getting caught in debris, apparently a piece of netting that typically holds beach toys, left behind on the beach in Emerald Isle.
Zucker didn’t post the photo but has witnessed the damage trash and debris on the beach can cause sea turtles. Trash can be ingested and make the turtles sick or obstruct efforts of hatchlings trying to get to the water.
Zucker said beach visitors and residents can help by following a few steps during the nesting season. For those living in or renting a home along the oceanfront, turn off beachfront lighting and close blinds or shades to keep indoor lighting from reaching the beach, which can disorient hatchlings who mistake the artificial lighting for moonlight reflected off the ocean and head toward it.
For those on the beach, keep a distance from marked nesting sites. In Emerald Isle, for instance, the nests are marked with a bright yellow post with a number identifying the nest.
Fill all holes on the beach and remove all beach gear at the end of a visit, particularly small toys, bags, nets and chairs.
If you see a nesting turtle, stay quiet, don’t shine a bright light or use flash with cameras. Zucker also recommends that anyone who sees a nesting turtle, a nest hatching or someone interfering with a nest to contact Emerald Isle Police Department at 252-354-2021.
Zucker said it’s important to protect each sea turtle nest, and Emerald Isle is seeing unprecedented numbers this nesting season.
As of Sunday, there were 50 documented sea turtle nests along the beach strand in Emerald Isle.
“Our volunteers are dedicated to each of our nests from beginning till the last hatchling reaches the ocean. This number of nests is a record for Emerald Isle,” Zucker said.
The numbers have been up along beaches throughout the local area.
Along Topsail Island, the number of nests has more than doubled. According to the seaturtle.org website, where up-to-date nesting information is kept for North Carolina, Topsail had 152 documented nests this season, up from a Terry Meyer, director of the Topsail Turtle Project, said the number of nests has grown to 160 and they could see a few more.
“They are spread out but the highest percentage is North Topsail Beach,” Meyer said.
Meyer estimates they have had 30 or more nests hatch to-date and with nesting being so active right now it is particularly important that beach visitors are mindful of the nests that are present.
She said an ongoing issue is the lights along the beachfront can send hatchlings toward the light and away from the water.
“The hatchlings are attracted to the brightest light so they are going to head to that bright porch light if its on,” Meyer said.