crowded room of both seasoned and new volunteers turned out in Buxton
for the first of two sea turtle nest watch training programs on
Monday evening, July 11.
Nest Watch Program is manned by community members and long-term
vacationers who want to help protect, monitor, and inform the public
about upcoming turtle nest hatchings.
one of the biggest draws for many volunteers, besides the ability to
provide essential help in protecting one of the island’s favorite
part-time residents, is the real probability of seeing a sea turtle
hatching up-close and personal.
role of the nest sitter, among other things, is to monitor a sea
turtle nest in the days and sometimes hours before the hatching
begins. Sea turtles – primarily loggerheads – hurl themselves up
onto the Hatteras and Ocracoke island shorelines every year, laying
more than 100 eggs at a time. After they leave, usually within hours,
the nest sits on the beach until a depression forms and it eventually
“boils over” with hatchlings that are clawing their way to the
here, it’s a mad nighttime dash to the ocean for the hatchlings,
who follow light from the sea to find their way.
addicting when you see a nest boil,” says Lou Browning, a local
wildlife rehabilitator who has been assisting with nest sittings for
more than 20 years. “It’s a great experience, and turtles need
all the help they can get.”
it turns out, there are a lot of factors that can cause a sea turtle
nest to require a little extra assistance, and, in turn, create an
assortment of jobs for the volunteers.
need to rake out the paths to remove ORV or foot traffic tracks and
prepare a clear runway for the tiny hatchlings to reach the ocean and
also need to be on hand if something goes awry.
are extremely sensitive to light and essentially find their way to
the ocean through the light off the water. As a result, another
extraneous light source can create mass confusion and can require a
little outside, and primarily hands-off, intervention.
biological science technician for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
in Buxton, William Thompson, who supervises the program and who
walked volunteers through the process during the training session,
explained this mass confusion in detail, identifying the two
prospective scenarios as “disorientation” and “misorientation.”
a “misorientation,” sea turtles flock, typically as a herd and in
one general direction, to a singular misleading light source – like
a porch light on a beach house. During a “disorientation,” the
sea hatchlings scatter in all directions.
either case, it’s up to the volunteer to shine a spotlight on the
ocean to indicate the right way --similar to a crossing guard -- or,
in the absolute worst case scenario, carefully corral the misguided
hatchlings and transport them to the ocean using a bucket lightly
filled with sand.
in the days and hours leading up to a hatching, volunteers also try
their best to remove any light sources that could potentially lead to
a problem, whether it’s a stray flashlight or glow stick along the
beach, or an oceanfront home with a gleaming light on the deck.
approach [the people] nicely, and talk about the turtles, and most
everyone will respond,” said Thompson during the session. “And if
you can, talk to the kids! They get excited about the hatchlings, and
will share what they learned with their parents.”
seasoned volunteer agreed that being polite works most all of the
time and shared a particular instance when she approached a family
about their porch light.
had a lady once tell me ‘Oh, no problem! I love turtles – my
grandma used to make soup with them!’”
education and presence are actually a big part of the turtle nest
sitting gig, since curious onlookers are often in the vicinity when a
turtle nest hatches, and they want to admire the incredible show as
well. And the turtle sitters in the crowd at Monday’s meeting
agreed that when they explained what was happening and how light
affected the hatch, the onlookers were both grateful for the info and
happy to oblige.
it boils down to is to treat everyone with respect,” explained
Thompson, “and they will most likely respect you as well.”
have the option to make a “guest viewing area” behind the nest,
but can also opt not to based on factors like where the sea turtle
nest is located. For example, if a turtle nest is located back in the
dunes, then there’s not much leeway for extra spectators without
trampling the dune system. Another concern, as several volunteers
pointed out, is cell phones. The flash of a single cell phone camera
can lead an otherwise organized turtle procession into the ocean into
a chaotic disorientation scenario.
you’re nervous about having people very close to the nest site, you
don’t have to put [viewing areas] in,” assured Thompson.
addition to basic procedures and protocol, the training session also
touched on a couple new topics for the 2016 season – namely, the
new tasks and considerations that were connected with the December
2015 legislative changes to the off-road vehicle plan.
to newly enacted changes to buffer distances around nests, if a sea
turtle nest blocks access from one ORV area to another and no way
around the nest exists,
driving may be permitted in front of the nest if resources are in
place to monitor nests and remove the ruts.
because of the team of volunteers who are prepared to spend several
hours raking out the tracks after the ORVs have exited the area,
these “corridors” can remain open throughout the sea turtle
who assisted the NPS with this practice last year, noted that raking
out multiple lanes of vehicle tracks from the low tide line to the
nesting closure was an incredibly time-consuming venture, and
Thompson said that the NPS was going to try to narrow these corridors
in order to make cleaning the area feasible, while essentially
keeping an area open for ORVs. “[Our goal is] to keep it down to
one to two lanes [in these areas], and hopefully that cuts down the
amount of raking that needs to be done,” said Thompson.
while the prospect of raking an ORV site for several nights in a row,
or potentially waiting days at a time for a nest to hatch, seems like
quite an undertaking, for volunteers, it’s not just a labor of love
– it’s a gateway to a rare Hatteras Island experience that’s
did this last year, and I loved it,” said one volunteer. “Just
seeing the baby turtles, being at the beach at night watching the
sky, and being next to the ocean…. It’s incredible.”
Clabough family, which included 12-year-old Whitaker who asked
several insightful questions during the question-and-answer session
concurred. The Claboughs live in Frisco during the summer months, and
Erin Clabough – Whitaker’s mom and a biology professor who is
currently working on a turtle sensor project with the Hatteras Island
Ocean Center – explained the allure.
of her children participated last year in the Nest Watch Program, and
this year, all four kids are joining in. “As soon as they saw the
first hatch, they went bonkers,” she said. “…They were very
excited to do it [again] this year.”
the volunteers in attendance included old pros like Whitaker, (who is
now in his second or third year), there were also some newcomers in
the crowd, which included NPS interpreters and Hatteras Island Ocean
Center interns who were volunteering their own time.
gives us more to talk about with our visitors, since we’re at the
forefront,” explained NPS interpreter Kate Owen as to why she was
Alexander and Maria Perrett, who attend college in Kansas and who are
part of a team of 15 volunteers from the Hatteras Island Ocean
is perfectly in-line with what we do at the Ocean Center,” said
Perrett. “…We all love sea turtles [and we love] this opportunity
to see a nest hatch.”
a breakdown of the program, potential hazards, and common sense
instruction, the volunteers filled out forms and contact sheets that
would eventually grant them access to the Nest Watch website – a
nicely organized database of essential information, nests that need
to be monitored, and other imperative info.
first nest is 55 days old and will be expanded on 7/23/16,” said
Thompson. When asked how many nests were “active” at any given
time, he noted that “The total number of nests that need to be
watched on any given night is five to eight during peak season.”
a time commitment to be sure. And attendees swapped stories about the
times that they “sat” on nests for days at a time, only to have
them hatch on the one night that they decided to take a day off.
one attendee added, “you’ve
been sitting for days and hours at a time, and a thunderstorm comes
up, and you run to your car. And then, when you come back an hour
later, they’re all gone.”
the inevitable potential reward for being a nest sitter -- as well as
the ability to make a descernible
difference -- far outweighs the potential time commitment for many
new and long-term volunteers.
is the most important. This is our opportunity to cause awareness
with folks about disorientation, light pollution, and [similar
factors],” said Thompson. “… And hopefully you guys are all
going to see [a hatching] first hand.”
the ultimate goal of a volunteer is not to change, interfere, or
disturb the hatching process – it’s simply to watch, record, and
make reasonable efforts to ensure that nature can take its course.
while enjoying one of the most incredible nature shows that Hatteras
and Ocracoke islands have to offer.
not trying to manipulate Mother Nature,” said Browning during the
trying to make up for the problem that we caused.”
YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER
NPS will be holding a second sea turtle nest sitting/raking training
on Monday, July 18, from 6 - 8 p.m. at the Old Weather Bureau
Station, located right behind the 47730 Apartment Complex, Buxton
Back Road, Buxton, NC 27920.To become a nest sitter, you must come to
the training, even if you have been to one before from other years.
nest sitting program is open to year-round residents, full-time
summer residents, vacationers staying for one month or more, and any
park employees. For those who do not meet these requirements, more
possibilities for the 2017 season may be available, so stay tuned.
ON 2016 SEA TURTLE NESTING SEASON
the end of 2015, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore had a record 289
nests, which included 277 loggerhead sea turtles, 10 green turtles,
two hawksbill turtles, and nine Kemp's ridley turtles.
date this year, the NPS has recorded 181 sea turtle nests which
includes 176 loggerhead turtles, two green turtles, one Kemp’s
ridley turtle, and two “unknown” turtles.
first nest is scheduled to be ready for hatching on or around July
OF NEST HATCHING
here to watch a video by volunteer nest sitter Liz Browning Fox
of a nest boil on the South Beach in Frisco in August of last year.