Help Protect Sea Turtles
Contact: Outer Banks Group, (252) 473-2111
Sea turtles have survived in the world’s oceans for millions of years. However, all of the five species that occur in North Carolina waters are currently either threatened or endangered. Every year, nesting female sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the Outer Banks which lie near the northern limit of the nesting range for loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles. In approximately two months, the eggs will hatch if left undisturbed. The hatchlings emerge from the sand at night and head for the ocean, finding their way by the relatively lighter contrast of the surfline to the surrounding background. Once in the ocean, they must swim many miles until they locate protection from predators in grasses or seaweed where they find much needed rest and nourishment.
The chances for hatchling survival are statistically slim due to a wide variety of dangers they face, even before they hatch, including predators, weather events, and human disturbance. Human disturbance can be a significant factor in areas like the Outer Banks where turtle nesting season coincides with summer vacations. Impacts of disturbance include: disturbing the female turtles while attempting to lay their eggs, unleashed dogs digging up nests, confusing the hatchlings with artificial lighting, or accidentally running over turtles or nests at night with off-road vehicles (ORVs). Sea turtle egg-laying season is well underway and will run through the month of August. Since some turtles have already laid their eggs some nests should start hatching soon. The National Park Service, therefore, offers the following tips for beach goers during sea turtle nesting season.
· Watch for turtle tracks. A turtle crawl is a wide disturbed area that looks like tractor tire tracks coming from the ocean towards the dune line. If you see a turtle crawl, please report it to a ranger.
· Stay away from nesting females. Sea turtles are not land animals and they use a lot of energy to pull themselves onto the beach to nest, so do not bother a nesting female as she is emerging from or returning to the ocean. If you witness a turtle crawl, move away or sit quietly away from the nesting female during the process and do not shine lights on her. Some false crawls, where a turtle comes ashore but does not lay eggs, are believed to be a result of human disturbance.
· Take your trash home. Please remove all of your belongings and trash from the beach at the end of the day. Sea turtles are known to have been caught and entangled in items left on the beach. Tent-like shade structures, beach furniture, and volleyball nets with anchor ties present a danger to these giant reptiles.
· Fill it in. Large, deep holes left on the beach can be a danger to other people and the unwary sea turtle crawling ashore to nest or trying to make it to the ocean, therefore, they should be filled in before leaving the beach.
· Turn off the lights. Artificial lighting can keep adult female sea turtles from nesting and disorient emerging hatchlings. Streetlights, buildings, fishing piers, off-road vehicles, flashlights, and campfires are some of the sources emitting artificial light. If walking the beach at night or driving an off-road vehicle and you see a sea turtle, turn your lights away and leave the area. Those residing in beach cottages can help by turning off unneeded outside lights and shading indoor lights. Campfires (not bonfires) are permitted in the Seashore if placed below the high tide line. They should never be built near a posted turtle nest site. Also, do not use flash photography on a nesting female or hatchlings.
· Respect enclosures. All known sea turtle nest sites are posted for their protection. As hatching dates approach, closures must be enlarged to safeguard the young. Beachgoers should respect these signed areas at all times. Areas are reopened after hatching is completed.
· Don’t become a predator. If you find a nest do not move or rearrange the eggs. Incubation periods and the sex of the hatchlings are dependent on the sand temperature. Also do not crowd, disturb, or pick up hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean.
· Leash your dogs. A dog’s keen sense of smell can steer it to sea turtle eggs buried in the sand. An entire clutch of turtle eggs can be quickly destroyed.
· Know the law. Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act and, therefore, it is unlawful to harass, harm, capture, or collect sea turtle eggs and live or dead hatchlings, juveniles, and adults. Violators may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment.
Cooperatively, all of the beaches on the Outer Banks are being surveyed daily for sea turtle activity. You can help these efforts by reporting your observations, respecting closures, and avoiding disturbances to nesting turtles and nests. If you witness any turtle activity, please report it to the following agencies, depending on the location.
· In Cape Hatteras National Seashore - Hatteras Island Ranger Station at (252) 995-6968, Ocracoke Island Ranger Station at (252) 928-5111, or Bodie Island Ranger Station at (252) 441-7425.
· In Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge - Refuge biologists at (252) 987-1118 or (252) 473-1131 extension 15.
· On beaches from Nags Head north - the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST) Program at (252) 441-8622.