Spring and the warmer weather is eluding us at the moment, but sea turtles don’t watch the weather channel or check their day planners. So it’s time to lace up those sneakers and hit the beach. And if you’re an early bird and like watching the sun rise over the ocean have we got a job for you!

Since the 1980’s our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers have been searching for signs of mama turtles coming to Topsail to nest. Our beaches have been a favorite of lady loggerheads for longer than anyone really knows. And even with all the development, dredging and re-nourishment they still find our little island a great place to raise their young’uns. Though most of our turtle mamas are loggerheads we’re always pleased that a few greens, as well as the most highly-endangered of all, a Kemp’s ridley have discovered our sandy shores.

From May 1 through the end of August Turtle Project volunteers, aka our “beach walkers” work under the direction of an area coordinator and are assigned a section of beach, approximately a mile or so, that they walk one morning a week. They scout for turtle tracks indicating that mama has come ashore with intentions of nesting. If tracks are found they then work with their coordinator to verify that a nest actually exists and that mom didn’t have a false crawl (left without laying eggs.) Upon verification they help stake and record the nesting data. There’s always friendly competition among the volunteers to be the one to find the first nest of the season.

If mom has laid her nest in a vulnerable area, like below the high tide line or near a beach access the coordinator and volunteers will relocate the nest to a safer place. We’re continuing to participate in a research program that has been tracking maternal DNA to determine where and when a particular turtle has been nesting. Results are fascinating, and have identified nests laid by mothers, daughters and sisters.

Many of our beach walkers also act as nest sitters when the hatchings are ready to emerge about 60 days later. They prepare the nesting site with a ramp to give the hatchlings a straight shot to the shore, and spend nights patiently waiting for the first tiny flipper to emerge from the sand. They’re ready to shepherd the critters safely to the surf, protecting them from natural and man-made hazards. And three days later they’re on-hand during the nest excavation where it’s not uncommon to find a few late risers who overslept the alarm while their siblings left the nest!

Our Turtle Project volunteers are great ambassadors for sea turtles. They’re easily identified by their special T-shirts and are ready and able to answer your questions about our favorite reptiles. To learn more about volunteering plan on attending one of our training sessions at the Surf City Welcome Center. Dates are Tuesday, April 10 (6-8:30 p.m.) or Tuesday, April 17 (1-3:30 p.m.) For more information contact Terry Meyer, Director of Beach Operations at: topsailseaturtle@aol.com.

Our hospital will reopen to the public on an abbreviated tour schedule beginning on April 5. We will be open only on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.

Although it’s unlikely that a turtle could have survived the winter with record cold temps it’s still possible. If you see a turtle on the beach or in the marshy area that is not moving please do not assume that it’s dead; it could be cold stunned. If it’s a little guy gently pick it up and relocate it to a car, garage or other unheated area of your home. Do not try to warm it up – the shock of a quick temperature change could send it into shock. We’ll send our staff out to rescue any and all turtles, big and small when you give us the word. Call one of the following numbers if you suspect you’ve come across a local cold-stunned turtle: Hospital contacts are Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 and Jean Beasley at 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line (910-329-0222) if the call comes into us early in the day. The state of NC has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367 


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