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Sea Turtles in NC
Five species of sea turtles can be found in North Carolina waters from Okracoke Inlet southward: loggerheads, green sea turtles, leatherbacks, ridleys and hawksbills. Most of those who visit our shores are loggerheads weighing 170 to 500 pounds. At the height of the season, sea turtle watchers can see a dozen feeding leatherback turtles on 26-mile-long Topsail Island, even though experts believe there are fewer than 1,000 females worldwide.
While other visitors depend on GPS devices to get to our beaches, a sea turtles’ migration route and navigational skills seem to be hard-wired in their brains from birth. So the real challenge is not Mom getting lost at sea on her way to lay her eggs on the Crystal Coast, Outer Banks or Brunswick Islands. Rather it’s having a turtle-friendly beach devoted to helping make sure two-inch-long baby sea turtles can successfully break free from their nests and scramble back to the ocean, without becoming a buffet for wild animals or family dogs. The sea turtle programs highlighted below are North Carolina’s “next generation” solution to sea turtle species survival. You can also learn about sea turtles at the North Carolina Aquariums.
Caswell Beach Turtle Watch
Volunteers on Caswell Beach protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles that lay eggs here from mid-May until mid-August. You can even adopt a nest through this program and other beach sea turtle programs.
Holden Beach Turtle Project
Like other North Carolina sea turtle programs, this program is an all-volunteer, nonprofit conservation organization that operates under the authority of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization
Turtle lovers name and sponsor dozens of nests throughout the summer nesting season, while volunteers dedicate themselves to nest management and organization, sea turtle death investigations, rescue and transport, a lecture series and education.
Pea Island Sea Turtle Management
Beach erosion at this National Wildlife Refuge means most sea turtle nests will drown unless relocated. Volunteers scour the entire refuge beach from May to September looking for the tell-tale sea turtle crawl tracks that lead to a nest. On Day 50 after eggs have been laid, turtle watchers begin a nightly vigil to protect emerging hatchings as they begin their trek to the Gulf Stream.
Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project
During nesting season from May 1 through Aug. 31, volunteers patrol from the southern end of Kure Beach to the northern end of Carolina Beach, including Freeman Park. The program offers opportunities such as “Adopt-A-Nest,” and provides guidelines about what to do if you see a sea turtle digging a nest or find a stray hatchling.
Sunset Beach Turtle Watch Program
Members of Sunset Beach’s program hold permits from the Non-Game and Endangered Wildlife Section of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to monitor sites, strandings and hatchlings. Volunteers record nesting sites, move nests that may be threatened, record turtle hatches and help hatchlings reach the ocean safely.
Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project
In addition to participating in other volunteer-led activities, visitors can attend summertime Turtle Talks on the beach. You’ll learn how hatchlings use a temporary tooth called a caruncle to tear open the egg, and how they set their internal compass by imprinting onto the sand, so they can find their way back to the beach where they were born on day to dig nests of their own.
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
This nonprofit “turtle hospital” on Topsail Island is staffed by volunteers and committed to the care and release of sick and injured sea turtles. Donations are directly applied to food, medical supplies and operating costs of the hospital.
added: July 24, 2009
updated: March 1, 2013