The beach has been busy this summer — and not just for human visitors.
There have been 1,211 observed loggerhead sea turtle nests documented along North Carolina beaches since Sept. 5 and a few more still are possible this season. Add in the nests for the green, leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and unidentified species and the number grows to 1,265.
The number of loggerhead nests is the highest number observed in a single season in North Carolina since standardized monitoring began statewide in the mid-1990s, said Matthew Godfrey, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and head of the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project.
A banner season is good news, but Godfrey said it’s difficult to pinpoint whether it’s a short-term gain or a long-term trend.
That’s the reason for the ongoing monitoring.
“We don’t know why the numbers are high this year,” he said. “It may reflect improved conditions on their foraging grounds, where they go up to several years building up their energy reserves so that they can reproduce, or it could be that there are simply more adult females laying eggs in the population. This is why long-term nesting data are so important: to be able to differentiate between long-term trends and short-term fluctuations.”
Those fluctuations have shown along area beaches as this year’s season moves into its final stretch as hatchlings emerge from their nests and make the scramble to the ocean.
Approximately 50 of the 130 nests along Topsail Island have hatched.
Terry Meyer, who oversees Topsail Turtle Project, said this season has been a strong one for the island, with nests up from the 85 recorded last season.
“I think you’ll find North Carolina is having a good year,” Meyer said.
While they are pleased to see the jump, Meyer also noted that nesting numbers vary from year to year. While the number is up nearly 65 percent from last year, it’s not much more than the 110 nests in 2011.
“Overall that’s a stable number,” she said.
Along Bogue Banks, the numbers add up as well.
There are eight nests at Atlantic Beach, three along Indian Beach/Salter Path, 10 along the beach at Emerald Isle and nine at Pine Knoll Shores, where there have been no nests in two years.
The number at Emerald Isle is down from 30 in 2012 and 17 in 2011 but the good news is in the big picture, said Jim Craig of the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program.
“We are an exception (to the increase) but we are happy with the state total,” Craig said.
Craig said they don’t know why Emerald Isle’s number is down but the numbers fluctuate. He noted that the females typically nest every other or every third year so it may be a different population of them this year.
The state and national parks in the area also monitor sea turtle nesting.
There have been five nests at Fort Macon State Park, up from two last season, and 14 at Hammocks Beach State Park, down from25 the previous season.
Hammocks Beach Resource Management Ranger Sarah Kendrick said that nesting numbers tend to cycle up and down and it’s not a concern unless they begin to see a downward trend.
This season, she said, has gone well with only one nest having to be relocated to protect it and hatching going well. About half of the nests have already hatched.
At Cape Lookout National Seashore there have been 190 nests observed, down from 228 last season but higher than the 157 in 2011.
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