We’ve been focusing on our summer interns for the past few weeks but now it’s time to turn our attention to another group; the hardest working ladies on our Topsail beaches, those mama Loggerheads.

We’ve been focusing on our summer interns for the past few weeks but now it’s time to turn our attention to another group; the hardest working ladies on our Topsail beaches, those mama Loggerheads.

Topsail has been a destination spot for nesting turtles for probably as long as it’s been a beach. In the 1980s Karen Beasley saw the need to protect the habitat for these amazing critters, not only for the mamas but for the hatchlings. Thus was born the Topsail Turtle Project. This dedicated group of about 150 volunteers patrols every mile, every morning, from May 1 through the end of August looking for turtle tracks. And they’ve had a very busy summer so far as we close in on 60 nests with two months of activity still left in the season.

Terry Meyer, director of Beach Operations, heads this very successful program with the help of her area coordinators who are responsible for large sections of the 26-mile island. The area coordinators, in turn, manage the beach elves who scout each day for signs of nesting. Once turtle tracks have been found the verification process begins. Not all trips result in a successful nesting. There are many things that might make mama turtle have second thoughts about the real estate that looked so good from the water. And if mama ain’t happy, back into the water she goes in search of another location. You’ll hear us refer to this as a “false crawl.”  If eggs are found the nest is staked and the GPS location is recorded. You can follow the progress of our nesting season by clicking on the “nesting” section at our website, seaturtlehospital.org.

Sometimes our volunteers have to move a nest because the original location would put the incubation and hatchlings in jeopardy. It might be in a heavily traveled area (next to a public beach access) or below the high tide line (which could cause the nest to flood during a storm or very high tide.) The whole process has to be reversed, with each egg gently pulled out, placed in buckets, carefully transported to a new location and placed in a new nest. If you see our volunteers belly-down in the sand it’s a good bet they are relocating a nest.

Sea turtles are not built for land travel. It’s extremely exhausting for a 400-hundred-plus pound turtle to drag her enormous carapace up to the dune line, dig a hole almost two feet deep, lay over a hundred eggs, refill the hole and then fling sand around in an effort to disguise her work. After one to two hours of work she has to haul her body back into the water and spend a few days or weeks at R&R. Turtles do not generally nest every year, though some are overachievers. But a turtle in nesting mode may make two to four nesting trips during the course of the season.

It’s vitally important to the survival of sea turtles that our residents and visitors become additional eyes on the beach during the nesting season. We have already had one turtle that was chased back into the surf by people out for a late night stroll, possibly resulting in her losing her eggs due to stress and exhaustion. Another nesting mama headed towards the light, which would normally be the reflection of the moon on the water. Unfortunately the light in her eyes happened to be spotlights on a beach house. She ended up in the middle of the road and was almost hit by a car. Thankfully the startled but well-informed motorist made the right call and our volunteers were able to get her back over the dunes and into the ocean. 

If you see turtle tracks, or happen upon any turtle on the beach, nesting or injured/stranded, immediately call Terry at 910-470-2880. She answers turtle calls 24/7. You can reach her at topsailseaturtle@aol.com for non-emergencies. All species of sea turtles are federally protected, and harassing or harming them in any way will result in hefty fines and/or imprisonment.

Hospital not open for tours

We’re still packed carapace-to-carapace with 40 patients of all sizes. Since very few of them passed their physicals a few weeks ago it looks like we’re going to have the pleasure of their company for many moons. Unfortunately that means we cannot offer tours at either location, neither at our current building nor at our not-yet-ready-to-open new facility. Briefly:

n We will NOT open for tours at our current location.

n We WILL resume tours when we complete the move to our new building.

n Turtle Talks will resume at the new building.

Once we are in the new facility the gift shop will be in full operation and there will be tours year-round. Please visit our Facebook page (The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center) for daily updates on our progress.

Questions, comments, suggestions??

Please direct any questions, comments or suggestions re: this column to me at: flippers@att.net. To be added to the newsletter list e-mail me at the same address: flippers@att.net. If your e-mail address has recently changed please send me your new one so I can update my master list. We’re holding publication of the next issue until after we make the move to the new facility.


Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.