many people living on Hatteras Island, summer is the busiest season of
the year due to the booming increase in tourism, and it is no different
for National Park Service workers.
Beginning May 1, the NPS monitors the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore for sea turtle nest activity.
sea turtles are also somewhat of a tourist attraction, NPS workers are
more concerned with the state of the sea turtle population which was
declared threatened under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Cape
Hatteras National Seashore, for its part, has had a hand in protecting
sea turtle nests since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
NPS workers start patrolling at 4:30 a.m. each morning in order to
secure any recently laid turtle nests before 6 and 7 a.m., when the
beaches open to ORV traffic.
NPS workers venture out on these early morning expeditions, they look
intently for flipper marks between the shoreline and the dunes which
indicate that a female sea turtle might have laid eggs on the beach.
Once the site is examined further and it appears that a female turtle
has thrown sand in order to bury her eggs, NPS workers mark off the
site with signs warning people of the presence of a nest.
biologists then record the GPS location of the nest and begin digging
around the softened sand for signs of eggs. Once NPS locates eggs, they
take a single sample for research purposes and leave the rest to
incubate under the protection of the sand. A transponder ball is then
placed near the nest underground in order to act as a metal identifier,
and four PVC are positioned in and around the enclosure to signal the
presence of a nest in case all other signifiers get lost to a storm.
On average, NPS staff identify 1-4 nests a day, 98-99% of which are belong to Loggerhead sea turtles.
of July 25, 2017, 101 confirmed nests have been found within the
Hatteras Island District (from Ramp 30 through Hatteras Village) of
Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Since the NPS doesn’t have
jurisdiction over the sandbar that has formed off the Point at the
moment, biologists can only speculate as to how many nests have
potentially been laid there.
the suggestion that sea turtles always lay eggs in the same place where
they were born, NPS workers cannot predict the specific site where sea
turtles will lay their eggs. In fact, the NPS is in its fifth year of a
DNA study showing that sea turtles don’t actually lay eggs in the same
exact spot each time, though they are likely to come back to a familiar
stretch of beach.
the time a nest is due to hatch approaches, about 50-55 days after a
nest is laid, corridors are set up in front of sea turtle nests to
ensure the safety of hatched sea turtles making their way to the ocean.
Because the time of hatching is highly dependent on temperature, nests
laid before June 15th take about 55-70+ days and 46-55 days after June
nest gets excavated after it hatches for further research purposes.
Otherwise, NPS biologists have little interaction with sea turtles
nests unless it is to move them from high erosion areas and flat areas
prone to flooding especially around Hatteras village. This
protective measure helps ensure that nests don’t getting swamped after
a heavy rainfall inevitably killing the turtles inside. Though NPS
workers take a hands-off approach to nests, they will investigate if
turtles haven’t hatched after 80 days.
identifying nest and putting safeguards in place are primarily the role
of NPS staff, when it comes to protecting the incubation and release
process of sea turtles, this action requires everyone’s help.
should avoid disturbing nesting turtles and turn out any artificial
light. It is also important to remove all beach equipment in the
evenings and fill in any holes in the beach where sea turtles could
potentially get lost. Regarding ORV rules, is also imperative as this
gives NPS enough time to patrol the beach and mark off nests before the
beaches open to ORV traffic.
If you have any questions about sea turtle protection, please visit the NPS website for Cape Hatteras at https://www.nps.gov/caha/index.htm
or contact Cape Hatteras National Seashore's headquarters at
252-473-2111. The NPS on Hatteras Island is always looking for an
opportunity to educate people on wildlife conservation efforts. “I like
curious folks,” says Will Thompson, lead biological technician within
the Hatteras Island District on Cape Hatteras. “If you can educate
someone, that’s great.”
NPS of Cape Hatteras is always excited to welcome volunteers to their
team who are willing to give two consecutive weeks of their summer for
3 or 4 nights a week to monitoring nests within villages. They have
also begun exploring options in internships in wildlife management and
beach clean-up for any adolescents wanting to gain skills in the field
of biology and conservation at an early age.
Indeed, it seems that when it comes to sea turtle conservation, everyone has a niche within our community.