Compared to its neighboring beaches on Pleasure Island, Wrightsville Beach had a quiet turtle nesting season last year. This summer, however, has already gotten off to a great start, according to the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project.
Since the first nest was found on May 26, 13 nests have been located on Wrightsville Beach as of July 6, according to volunteer Kristin Holloman.
“In 2015, there were four nests on Wrightsville. 2016 has been a banner year,” Holloman said, adding that there have also been nine “false crawl – the term for failed attempts – discovered this season. “It has been over a decade since Wrightsville Beach has had nests numbering in the double digits.”
Holloman said fluctuations in the number of nests found from year to year are not uncommon, as turtles breed in two- or three-year cycles.
“That results in years when there are very few nests and years when there are spikes in the number of nests,” Holloman said.
About 125 Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project volunteers have been patrolling the beach since nesting season began on May 1, checking for nests and turtle tracks early in the morning or sitting near identified clutches when a hatch date is near. The eggs of loggerhead turtles, which Holloman said “are the most prevalent nesters on Wrightsville Beach as well as in the state of North Carolina,” take about 45 – 55 days to hatch. Green sea turtles and the rare Kemp’s Ridley have also been known to nest on local beaches.
Though there were some issues with the tampering of sea turtle nests in Carolina Beach last year, which is a federal crime, as the animals are endangered and protected by the government, Holloman said that to her knowledge there haven’t been any problems in Wrightsville this year. She did name another concern volunteers have.
“One of the concerns for nests on Wrightsville is the potential for unleashed dogs to discover the nesting turtles or nests,” Holloman said. “This is a concern for nesting birds as well. Our volunteers are constantly on the lookout for owners of unleashed dogs in hopes to educate them about the risks to the eggs or turtles as well as the penalties for ignoring the rules established for protecting them.”
Holloman and her fellow volunteers also encourage people to “choose to be turtle-friendly” through several different methods.
“Use red-filtered flashlights when walking at the beach at night, as sea turtles cannot see in the red spectrum and are less likely to be disturbed,” Holloman suggested. “Maintain a respectful distance from any turtle and allow it to do what it is on the beach to do, whether it is a female laying eggs or hatchlings finding their way to the ocean.”
Beachgoers are also asked to fill in holes in the sand, which pose a safety risk for both turtles, who often lay eggs and hatch at night, and humans who walk the beach in the dark. Other common-sense practices that are encouraged include removing all equipment such as umbrellas and canopies from the beach at the end of the day, which can pose obstacles for turtles on the move, as well as picking up all trash.
“Basically, if it comes to the beach with you, it should leave the beach with you as well,” said Holloman. “It’s important to realize that while the beach is a recreation spot for us, it is a labor and delivery room and nursery for animals like sea turtles and birds.”
Anyone who sees a nest on the beach or an injured turtle must report it to the local sea turtle hotline at (910) 612-3047 or to the Wrightsville Beach Police Department at (910) 256-7945 as a non-emergency call. Volunteers will then be dispatched to the site.
Those interested in more information about sea turtles can attend a session of Turtle Talks, which are held every Tuesday through August at 7 p.m. at the North Carolina Coastal Federation Building at 309 W. Salisbury St. in Wrightsville Beach. For more information about the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project, visit their website.