Do you like quiet morning walks on the beach watching the sunrise over the ocean — like who doesn’t? Then break out your beach shoes and plan to attend one of the two training sessions for Topsail Turtle Project volunteers scheduled in early April.

Turtle Project volunteers aka “beach walkers” are the first line of defense for our sea turtles as they begin heading to Topsail to nest, officially between May 1 and the end of August. It’s a chance for you to get involved in the effort to preserve these incredible creatures who are under increasing pressure to survive as our oceans and nesting areas become less hospitable.

Terry Meyer, who has marshaled the beach project for many years, will be armed with a head full of turtle information and nesting history, as well as supplementary visuals during the sign-up sessions. It’s a great introduction for anyone who is new to sea turtles as well as a beneficial review for our veteran walkers.

In a nutshell (or sea shell) under the guidance of an area coordinator volunteers are assigned a day of the week and a section of Topsail beach to walk early in the morning before the tide comes in. They look for turtle tracks, a sign that a nesting mother has come ashore scanning for a place to lay her eggs. When a suspected nest has been located they work with their coordinator to verify and stake the area for our records and as a way of hopefully protecting it during the incubation period of approximately 60 days. Sometimes the nest has been laid where it’s too vulnerable to foot traffic or incoming tides and volunteers will assist in relocating it to a more suitable area. There’s always a friendly competition to see who will find the first nest and our walkers take great pride in their work as they continue to monitor the beaches and watch the nests accumulate over the summer months.

Nesting numbers can vary significantly from year to year under normal circumstances and it’s no secret that our beaches were extensively restructured when Florence hit last September. The three towns have been working diligently, pushing and trucking in sand to help rebuild the dune areas, the optimal place for our nesting mothers to deposit their eggs. This year will present a bit of a challenge to our turtles, but they’ve outlived the dinosaurs because of their persistence and adaptability. Our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers are their best hope for making sure every nest that manages to get laid on our beaches has the best chance to produce the next generation of these sweet and determined critters.

The two training sessions will be held at the Welcome Center in Surf City on Wednesday, April 3 from 1-4 p.m. and on Monday, April 8 from 6-9 p.m.. You only need to attend one of those. Join Terry and the other veterans of this long-running program and get involved! If you’re also interested working at our hospital you can sign up for upcoming training sessions while you’re there. And don’t forget to contact your local state representatives to ask them to support HB169 that would make our loggerheads the official saltwater reptile of North Carolina.

And last but not least - we will reopen for public tours beginning on April 4 two days a week, Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. Come visit us before we begin releasing our rehabbed turtles and before the crowds get here in just a few short months!


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