most folks, the subject of sea turtles conjures images of nest
excavations on the beach and enormous, old turtles gliding along the
Gulf Stream, but for many on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, it also
evokes visions of cold-stunned sea turtles stranded along the coast in
Each year, National Park Service rangers and local
volunteers patrol the coastline daily in search of stranded sea
turtles, and on Thursday, Dec. 5, 15 islanders attended a training
session at the Cape Hatteras Secondary School to learn how to locate
and rescue the stranded endangered and threatened animals during the
The training session was led by Frank Welles and
facilitated by the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST), the
organization centered in Nags Head that supports the volunteer program.
majority of those who attended the meeting were veterans of the
volunteer program, but about six new faces were present. Though
some newcomers were recruited by friends or current volunteers, one
couple’s interest was piqued after stumbling upon a stranding near
their home in Frisco.
Throughout the training session, the
experienced volunteers provided tips and shared stories about their
work with cold-stunned sea turtles.
Richard Marlin of Frisco
mentioned his first encounter with a stranding that appeared to be
dead. Marlin was surprised to hear the sea turtle gasp after
touching the turtle’s eyeball – a method used to determine whether it
is alive or dead. The reaction was normal.
Welles also contributed his favorite story about a windsurfer that had rescued a sickly loggerhead sea turtle in the summer.
“When the loggerhead got up to rehab,” Welles said with a smile, “it pooped Legos for three days.”
Browning of Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation in Frisco explained
to the group that sea turtles will eat nearly anything and that over
half of the turtles that go to rehab have ingested plastic.
veteran volunteers also helped coordinate volunteer efforts by
suggesting places along the seashore to monitor. They identified
areas that are especially active – where stranded turtles are often
found – and detailed the routes they currently patrol. In the
future, a website will be used by volunteers to inform others of their
daily patrol locations and frequency.
NEST assists and
encourages local volunteers because Cape Hatteras National Seashore is
essentially a hot spot for cold-stunned sea turtles.
turtles break from their long seasonal migrations to feed and forage in
the Pamlico Sound, but they become trapped if the water temperature
falls below 50 degrees during this time.
“The low 40s is when you see a lot,” explained Welles. “And when it drops below 50, it’s usually blowing.”
cold-blooded reptiles, sea turtles derive heat from their surroundings
and when they become too cold, their metabolism slows, prohibiting them
from moving and ultimately from migrating to warmer water. This
also makes it challenging to determine whether the cold-stunned turtles
are alive or dead.
The volunteers primarily search for
strandings along the soundside, covering private property in the
villages and those not patrolled by the National Park Service.
Several volunteers, Welles included, even kayak to stretches of the
seashore that are not easily reached on foot.
Once a sea turtle
is found, volunteers determine the type of turtle and its condition and
whether it is dead, alive, or injured. Of the five species that
inhabit the area, only loggerhead, green, and Kemps Ridley turtles are
commonly found. Volunteers also measure the stranding and provide
its location before transporting it.
The live turtles are then taken to Manteo to undergo rehabilitation to aid in their recovery.
detailed information provided during the training session will
undoubtedly be put to good use. Last year, 74 strandings were
found throughout Hatteras Island and 20 have already been rescued and
transported to rehab this year.
“The best day ever was the day I had seven turtles in the kayak,” said Welles.
that a sea turtle’s chance at survival is slim from day one, each
rescued stranding is a victory for its species. And it seems to
be rewarding work for those volunteering their time.
Banks residents or visitors observe a sea turtle (dead or alive),
please report it. Please call the Hatteras hotline at
And it’s not too late to join the volunteers.
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