The 2019 nesting season is coming to a close with 177 nests, just short of our record of 181. It’s been a hectic and grueling summer for our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers who have hoofed probably thousands of miles looking for tracks, spent countless hours on their knees digging up and relocating nests laid in perilous locations and then lost (and continue to lose) sleep as they sit on our beaches at night waiting for the babies to make their long-anticipated appearance. It’s tough work!
But if you were a mama turtle bent on nesting this summer that job was no picnic either. First you had to drag your 300-plus pound body out of the surf and onto the beach using flippers that are built for ocean travel. Then you had to root around for the perfect patch of sand in the perfect area of a dune. Then it’s settle down into a body pit and dig, dig, dig an egg chamber with your back flippers. Finally you could start laying those eggs, usually around 120 on average. If all went well it’s time to cover them up, patting down the sand and disguising your work by tossing sand around with your flippers. Then you drag your exhausted booty back to the water for a short rest before you do it all over again, sometimes five or six times.
That’s what happens when everything goes according to plan. In late July Debbie Wilson, the Beach Coordinator for the south end of the island got a call in the wee hours of the morning from walkers Corda and Mark who were perplexed when they found only one set (the “up” set) of large turtle tracks. Following the trail they discovered a large green mama at the end, hopelessly tangled in the bracing of a set of beach access stairs. This gal was huge and was positioned sideways with a flipper stuck over the brace. Debbie and additional volunteers Andrea, Roy and Nancy joined our first responders at the site and were finally able to push mom off the bracing and back up onto the dune. At this point everybody was exhausted, but job one was to get mama back down the beach and into the water where she could rehydrate and begin to recover from her ordeal.
The group searched the dune area, which by now was quite a mess, for signs of eggs but didn’t find any. On a hunch Debbie poked around in the area by the post where mom was stuck and was astonished to find that this determined lady had managed to dig a shallow hole and deposit 125 eggs! Her eggs were relocated to a safe place a bit farther down the beach, where they are hopefully growing into those beautiful green babies as the incubation period progresses. Every turtle nest is precious in so many ways, but a green turtle nesting on Topsail (which is known primarily as loggerhead territory) is special indeed. Thanks to this group of volunteers who spent their morning responding to a very demanding situation, and to all of our dedicated volunteers in our Topsail Turtle Project. Flipper hugs!
Only a few more weeks to visit us on our summer tour schedule, daily (except Wednesdays and Sundays) from noon – 4 p.m. In mid-September we go to our fall/winter schedule of two days a week. We will not be open on Monday, Sept. 2 in observance of Labor Day. Attendance is still pushing 1,000 visitors a day so lines can be long. Bring umbrellas for shade and lots of water to stay hydrated. The tour takes about 45 minutes once inside the doors so plan your schedule accordingly. Our turtles get pretty tired after a long day of receiving visitors and are less active as the afternoon goes on. Hope to see you all soon – we love “talking turtle” to you.
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.