Sea Turtle Nesting Season Begins with Rare Events

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Date: June 19, 2007
Contact: Outer Banks Group, (252) 473-2111

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, if all goes well, the eggs will hatch and hatchlings will 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.

The first sea turtle nests on North Carolina beaches recorded in 2007 were laid in mid-April by the endangered leatherback sea turtle. The three nests, found on beaches of Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, are unusual as the leatherback rarely nests this far north. It is likely that the same female laid these nests since they occurred approximately 10-12 days apart, which is the normal nesting interval between egg clutches for this species.

Leatherback turtles, which can measure eight feet in length and weigh 2000 pounds, begin breeding in the early spring when ocean waters are still cool. By comparison, the loggerhead turtle, a threatened species that nests more commonly on North Carolina beaches, does not usually begin to lay eggs until May or June. The leatherback needs sandy nesting beaches backed with plants and sloped so that the crawl to dry sand is not too far.

The first confirmed leatherback nest recorded in North Carolina occurred in 1998 at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Although common in North Carolina waters during certain times of the year, leatherbacks typically nest in more tropical areas.

The leatherback is the largest, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles.A living relic, the leatherback is the largest turtle on earth. Unlike other sea turtles that have shells made of hard boney plates, the leatherback shell or carapace is comprised of numerous small boney plates covered by black rubber-like skin.

An open ocean species, the leatherback sometimes moves into shallow bays, estuaries and even river mouths. Although the preferred food is jellyfish, the leatherback diet also includes sea urchins, squid, shrimp, fish, blue-green algae and floating seaweed.

Sea turtles are among the largest living reptiles. Sea turtles are long-lived, although scientists are uncertain how long they live because there is no known way to determine their age. Unlike the land turtles from which they evolved, sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the sea. They glide gracefully through the water with flipper-like forelimbs and a streamlined shell. Sea turtles frequently come to the surface to breathe when active, but they can remain underwater for several hours when resting.

Of the six sea turtle species that are found in U.S. waters or that nest on U.S. beaches, all are designated as either threatened or endangered under the

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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