Loggerhead sea turtles are adorable and fascinating, but unfortunately, threatened. As Emerald Isle’s most precious wildlife and the destination being designated as an official sea turtle sanctuary, the area works hard to protect one of nature’s most interesting cycles: the sea turtle nesting season.
From May to November, North Carolina catches a major wave of sea turtle nesting and hatching, which spans the East Coast all the way down to Florida. During this time, sea turtles as old as 30 years of age will travel thousands of miles back to their birthplace just to lay their eggs on the same beach they originally hatched from.
The Journey to Sea
Once on land, the mother turtle will begin by digging a large hole sometimes up to 2 feet deep and laying on average 120 eggs per nest. Some mothers can lay up to 150 eggs at a time! Then the mother will fill the hole back up and return to the sea. A couple months later the turtles will hatch, and head straight to the water, traveling all the way to the Gulf Stream nearly 50 miles offshore.
Once they hatch it’s even more dangerous for them with only about 1 in 1000 surviving the first year, due to environmental risks and challenges they face along the way. Hatchlings often fall prey to birds, crabs, and other crustaceans or suffer from the effects of pollution and destruction of their homes.
Protection and Preservation
It’s an exciting phenomenon to witness and something the Crystal Coast holds near and dear to our hearts. The best advice is to steer clear, do not disturb and enjoy from afar.
The designated nesting sites will be marked with wooden posts, tape, and signage. Do not enter and do not take anything from the site. As a threatened species, it’s important to preserve and keep their natural habitats undisturbed
If you feel that a nesting site has been tampered with, reach out to local police by calling (252) 354-2021. Fortunately, the area has many volunteers that spend time every day checking on the nests and making sure they aren’t harmed. If there is an injured turtle or a problematic situation, the volunteers at the North Carolina Aquarium on Pine Knoll Shores will give them the care they need.
The Do’s and Don’ts
Fill in all holes.
If you or someone in your group digs a hole and doesn’t fill it back up, the mama turtles can get stuck and therefore, may not be able to lay their eggs. Plus, humans can get stuck too and that’s no fun.
Limit the use of artificial light.
Have you ever experienced how blinding a flash can be? Well, it’s even worse for sea turtles. It disturbs the nesting environment for mothers and temporarily blinds the hatchlings. Also, try to keep outside lights off at night so that it doesn’t cause any disorientation for the hatchlings. Since the hatching process usually takes place at night, artificial lighting can cause a false horizon for the hatchlings can prevent them from getting to the ocean safely.
Follow the beach rules.
A quick review of rules and regulations not only keeps you safe on your vacation but protects this threatened species. Always pick up your trash and remove beach equipment at the end of the day to prevent both the mothers and hatchlings from being trapped or consuming hazardous materials. And as always, fireworks are illegal in NC. Limit loud noises to prevent scaring the sea turtles, stunting the process.
Join Us this Season
If you’re interested in having a close-up view of the sea turtle nesting process, an oceanfront rental might be a good choice for you. However, there are plenty of vacation rental options that will still put you in close proximity to the beaches of Emerald Isle. You may get to see some of the nesting sites or catch a view at night, but once again, keep your distance and reach out to local police if you have any questions or concerns.