Help Protect Our Local Sea Turtle Population on the Crystal Coast

Help Protect the Endangered Sea Turtles. Learn more about how you can help here!
The Labor Day holiday is here! With it comes a lot of fun in the sun, time on the beach spent with family and friends, cookouts and barbecues, and the savoring of the final days of the summer season.

As you enjoy your Crystal Coast beach time this weekend, we'd also like to remind you that you share the shores with our local marine life. With an increased number of people on the beach this weekend, it's important for both residents and visitors to be aware of the precious coastal habitat and assist in its maintenance and preservation.

Sea turtle nesting season is still in progress. The season began on May 1 and continues through October 31 on the Crystal Coast. It is possible that you could stumble upon a nest so if you do, please don't disturb it. If it is unmarked, take the time to call the Emerald Isle Police Department (252.354.2021) and they will relay the information to the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program.

Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common nester on the Emerald Isle beaches. Because they are a threatened and endangered species, the Emerald Isle Sea Turtle Protection Program tries to locate and protect the nest sites and help the hatchlings return to the surf. The program is comprised of about 80 volunteers who walk the entire 12.5 miles of the Emerald Isle beach early each morning from May 1 through August 31 searching for evidence of sea turtles that may have come ashore during the night to lay their eggs.

The loggerheads leave characteristic crawl marks in the sand up to 40 inches in width. Once spotted, volunteer walkers call in their findings and the program coordinators quickly come to the site to check for the possibility of eggs being present. If found the nest site is marked, flagged and numbered.

The incubation period is anywhere from 50-70 days. On about day 50, the volunteers dig a trench about two feet wide and deep to help guide the hatchlings to the ocean. The flagging is extended along the trench. The exact time when the hatchlings will come out of the nest is unknown, so once the trench has been dug, volunteers start sitting at the nest from dusk to around midnight. (The volunteers do not touch the hatchlings; they just guide them toward the ocean.)

The hatchlings can emerge at anytime once the sand gets cool and quiet. They are keenly aware of vibrations in the sand from noise and a lot of movement around the nest. They do not normally emerge during the daylight hours because of predators and the extreme heat of the beach sand. A hatchling will go toward the brightest thing they see, which are often the lights on homes, the lighted pier and light from street lamps, so that's why the community is encouraged to keep artificial lighting to a minimum when at all possible during the season. It can be a major distraction to the emerging sea turtles.
The exact locations and hatching dates of loggerheads are not advertised because of the Endangered Species Act. Members of the public are welcome to talk with the volunteers and to sit and wait along with them. If hatching occurs after dark, the volunteers request that you refrain from using flash photography and flashlights because of the potential harm to the hatchlings.

Emerging Loggerhead HatchlingThree to five days after the first hatchling emerges from the nest site, the volunteers conduct an excavation at the nest. Everything is dug up so that the hatched egg shells can be counted, undeveloped eggs can be discovered, and any hatchlings that were not strong enough to emerge on their own can be released.

So now that you know a bit more about our local sea turtle population, you may be wondering what you can do to help preserve and protect them. Here are some helpful things you can do.
  • Fill in all holes you or your children dig in the sand. They can cause mother turtles to get stuck and can be a hindrance to emerging hatchlings.
  • Keep outside lights off at night. They disturb nesting mother turtles and distract hatching baby turtles toward the light but away from the ocean, which is where they need to go.
  • Remove tents, toys, and beach gear overnight. Leaving them out could interfere with the nesting mothers coming ashore and the emerging hatchlings' journey to the sea.
  • Pick up trash. Plastic bags are especially dangerous to sea turtles because they think they are jellyfish, their main food source, and will attempt to eat them (and then get sick).
  • Refrain from using fireworks on the beach. Fireworks are illegal in North Carolina. The noise keeps the mother turtles from coming ashore to nest and disturbs the baby turtles during hatching.
  • Call the police (252.354.2021) if you see any sea turtle activity or if you see anyone disturbing a nest.
The Town of Emerald Isle and the surrounding Crystal Coast area value our local marine species and habitats. We hope our visitors feel that way, too. We love sharing our beautiful beaches with you, and we appreciate your help in maintaining and protecting our natural beauty.

If you would like additional information about supporting or donating to the sea turtle program, contact The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, P.O.Box 3012, Topsail Beach, NC 28445. The facility serves all of the turtle programs along the entire coast. It is also a great place to visit if you want to see recuperating sea turtles and makes for a great day trip.

Have you seen any sea turtle activity while vacationing here in Emerald Isle? Tell us about it in our comment section. We always love hearing from you. Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day!

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