Start of the 2011 Sea Turtle Nesting Season

May 1 was the official start of the 2011 sea turtle nesting season. Emerald Isle is designated as a sea turtle sanctuary. From now until the end of August, female sea turtles may come ashore and lay their eggs. The Emerald Isle Sea turtle Protection Program recruits volunteers to walk the beach each morning at dawn looking for the nests. These same volunteers will oversee the hatchlings as they emerge approximately 55-60 days later.

Loggerhead turtles are the most common to nest on our beach. There is an occasional Green Turtle nest as well. These turtles are classified as “threatened,” meaning they are likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their range. They are protected by federal and state laws.

Fully grown, these turtles will weigh between 300 and 400 pounds. Their appearance on the beach is during the overnight hours.  The female will find a suitable spot on the beach for her eggs and then dig a hole, or pit, depositing an average of 120 eggs. She then covers the eggs, masks the area by throwing sand in every direction, and lumbers back to the sea. She may lay several nests in one season but never returns to have contact with the hatchlings.  They are on their own to emerge and get to the sea before a long list of predators appear.  These predators include crabs, raccoons, birds, and species of fish and sharks.

Beach gear left behind may be in the turtle’s path and signal an unsafe location for her nest. In some cases the sea turtle will return to the sea and wait for another day. This is a false crawl. Residents and tourists can help by turning lights off at night. Artificial lighting can confuse the hatchlings, causing a false horizon. The light of the ocean, moon, and stars should be their visual cue to find the ocean.

For more information, visit the Emerald Isle Town website for a list of updates on nesting throughout the summer.