Sea Turtle Hospital News

Turtle tracks... come and gone


Larry Runyon
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 12:16 PM.

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.

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.


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