Friday, July 19, 2024

Conservation group sees record number of sea turtle nests on Bald Head Island

A nesting mother sea turtle. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy BHI Conservancy)
A nesting mother loggerhead sea turtle. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy BHI Conservancy)

At least 22 sea turtle nests were discovered in May on Bald Head Island — twenty more than those found this time last year. The number could break the BHI Conservancy’s all-time record.

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Sixteen days after discovering the first loggerhead sea turtle nest on Bald Head Island, a conservancy group is on pace to break its all-time record of 102 nests found in a single season.

According to Amber Walters, spokesperson for BHI Conservancy, the 22 sea turtle nests discovered so far doubles the amount found by the same time in 2016 — the year the record was set — and dwarfs the two nests found by May 31, 2018.

The last time initial numbers reached this level was in 2002, when 15 nests were discovered in May. For Walters, this is a sign of a potentially record-breaking season after the past two years have seen low overall numbers on the island.

“There have also been 32 false crawls (the mom will crawl up the beach to nest but turn back around before laying her eggs) and the Conservancy team has been able to identify 20 of the nesting mothers,” Walters said.

The official sea turtle nesting season in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida kicked off in May. All turtles discovered on Bald Head Island, according to Walters, have been the loggerhead species common to North Carolina waters. Walters said this is common, with only the occasional green turtle and leatherback turtle — the largest of the sea turtle species — found in 2010.

A sea turtle "nest cage" used to protect a mother turtle's nest on Bald Head Island. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Paul Hillbrand)
A sea turtle “nest cage” used to protect a mother turtle’s nest on Bald Head Island. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Paul Hillbrand)

“Our sea turtle team tracks these sea turtles through flipper tags, shell measurements, and scanning for PIT tags,” Walters said, comparing the tags to microchips commonly used in household pets. “Identifying these turtles helps create a data set where the turtles and their nesting history is able to be tracked throughout their long lifetime.”

BHI Conservancy first began protecting and tracking sea turtles more than 30 years ago. Walters said a program coordinator, Paul Hillbrand, now leads a crew of 6 interns on nightly patrols of the beaches. From 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., she said crew members ride off-road UTVs to track, measure, and tag the sea turtles, protect their nests with plastic cages, and relocate the nests if they are laid too close to the high tide line.

“In one night alone the team had 9 sea turtle events, with 7 of those taking place in the three-hour time span of 12:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.,” Walters said.

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