Beach Access and Park Issues
August 22,  2009

The National Park Service prepares
sea turtle nests for Hurricane Bill


Despite the fact that Hurricane Bill was forecast to remain hundreds of miles offshore, the National Park Service took all the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s 91 remaining sea turtle nests. 

Park employees and volunteers worked furiously and frantically yesterday, Aug. 21, to remove all filter fencing from nests that have reached their 50-day hatch window and to excavate any and all nests that had shown signs of hatching and could potentially contain live hatchlings.

The black filter fencing, which is put up around nests that have incubated for 50 days, is used to help block out artificial light sources that can confuse and disorient the baby turtles coming out of the nest.

It’s a great tool under normal circumstances, but it quickly becomes a problem in a storm situation, particularly when it comes to the surge.

The tarpaulin material is draped around the nest in such a way that, if the tide comes up, the fencing will actually funnel the water back down into the nest, causing it to flood and resulting in the loss of eggs and hatchlings.

Removing all the fencing is a tough job, but the most daunting, and probably most important task of yesterday was to perform early excavations of all nests that have either hatched or shown signs of hatching.
Turtle eggs are incredibly sensitive and can’t really withstand being inundated by tide. 

And live hatchlings—baby turtles that have hatched out of their egg but have not yet left the nest—would be unable to exit a flooded nest and would drown.

“If they’re in their eggs, they have a chance,” says Michelle Bogardus, lead sea turtle biotechnician with the Park Service. “But if they’re out, then they can drown just as easily as you and I.”

A total of 19 nests were excavated yesterday—four nests on Bodie Island, 10 on Hatteras, and five on Ocracoke.
Of those 19 nests, 13 were early excavations, and almost all of the excavated nests contained live hatchlings that would have otherwise drown.

Throughout the course of the day, park rangers and volunteers rescued about 200 to 300 live hatchlings.

There were also a good number of pipped eggs—eggs that were beginning to hatch, but had not completed the process, as well as some eggs that were ready hatch, but had not yet begun to crack.

Some of the live hatchlings were released last night, and the rest will be released, depending on the weather, on either Sunday or Monday evening. 

Until then, they’re living in coolers, buried in sand from their original nests, and are being kept in the park service trailer in Buxton.

The pipped and unhatched eggs will likely complete the hatching process while in park service custody and will be ready for release when the weather is ready to cooperate.

As for the 70 or so nests that were too early in their incubation period to be excavated—all the Park Service could do was to hope for the best.

“Luckily, most of our nests are pretty high,” Bogardus said hopefully. “So I think we’ll be OK.”


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