Seashore has another record year for sea turtle nests
By JOY CRIST
Sea turtles are having a banner year on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and beyond.
The National Park Service announced this week that, as of Aug.
10, the number of turtle nests on the seashore had reached 310,
breaking the record of 289 nests set last year.
The NPS says that the 310 reported by resource management staff
comprise nearly 20 percent of the 1,555 nests currently reported in the
State of North Carolina.
Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common nesting sea turtles that
appear at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and make up 300 of the
310 total nests that have been recorded this year. An additional seven
are green sea turtles, one nest is a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, and two
nests are currently unknown.
The high number of sea turtle nests appears to be a trend all along the Eastern Seaboard, according to data from http://seaturtle.org/,
which actively monitors sea turtle nests all around the world. As of
Aug. 10, the site reported a total of 13,454 nests around the globe,
which are primarily concentrated on the East Coast.
Other turtle hot spots that are also having banner or record-breaking
years include coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and other North Carolina
beaches. For example, the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia
has reported 332 nests, which is up from 218 in 2015, while the
neighboring Cape Lookout National Seashore in NC has reported 333
nests, which is up from 247 in 2015 and 128 in 2014.
Recently, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also
noted that the state's sea turtle nest numbers had surpassed the record
high of 5,198 nests set in 2013. The number of nests laid in 2015,
5,111, was exceeded in mid-July, with several weeks still left in the
season. South Carolina biologists who monitor sea turtles were
optimistic that the high nest numbers represented the pay-off of
decades of conservation efforts -- and could translate to indications
that the recovery of the loggerhead, the most common sea turtle in the
Carolinas, is on track.
Michelle Havens, the chief of resource management for the NPS Outer
Banks Group, also states that the record numbers in Cape Hatteras are
likely due to conservation efforts, and not weather or environmental
“I like to think that the increase is because of the recovery efforts
over the last couple of decades, which are starting to pay off,” she
says. “The warmer weather more or less affects the season and how
quickly the hatchlings come out, but not necessarily the number of
She also says that the addition of ORV corridors in 2016 has helped
keep more beaches open, despite the record high number of sea turtle
“We’ve had almost 20 ORV corridors in front of nests and expect more to
come,” she says. “They’ve been a tremendous success in allowing access
to areas where the beach would have otherwise been closed.”
Given the record high number of nests, the National Park Service urges
the beach-going public to be aware of nesting activity or hatchlings
while visiting the seashore.
If you see sea turtle tracks, nesting activity, or hatchlings, please
notify park biologists by calling the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
hotline at 252-216-6892. NPS biologists closely monitor the beach for
sea turtle nesting activity, as well as the nests themselves once they
have been identified.
Once a nest is no longer occupied, biologists then excavate the nest to
document how many eggs have hatched by digging up the nest, counting
empty eggshells, and collecting un-hatched eggs for research. Live
hatchlings are also occasionally found during these excavations.
When a nest is nearing the time of hatching, volunteers step in to keep
watch and ensure everything goes smoothly. Often, the local volunteers
will also set up viewing areas so that the public can watch as a
hatching occurs, although flashlights, cell phones, cameras, and any
other false light source that can derail the hatchlings are not
Persons interested in finding out when and where a nest excavation or
release of hatchlings will take place can call the excavation program
hotline at 252-475-9629. Because of the unpredictability of sea turtle
hatchings, notice of these excavation programs will usually occur only
one day in advance, so NPS advices that the public check the hotline