North Carolina’s sea turtle nesting season officially began in mid May and the Wrightsville Beach season kicked off May 29 with the discovery of the first nest near Public Beach Access No. 34.
Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project coordinator Nancy Fahey was worried disturbance from the renourishment project would deter loggerhead sea turtles from stopping at Wrightsville Beach this season. In fact, when she saw the telltale turtle tracks on the night of May 29, it took a moment to register.
The turtle had already returned to the ocean by the time Fahey followed the trail to her nest of 102 eggs laid in the shadow of the Weeks Marine pipe used for renourishment of the beach.
“Bless her heart, she went right up to the dredge pipe and laid her eggs,” Fahey said. “I’m sure to her it just looked like a dune because they don’t see all that well when they’re out of the water and it was dark.”
Fahey and volunteer Mellissa Dionesotes moved the nest to a safer location near the dunes behind the lifeguard stand and marked it off with stakes and red tape.
The Weeks Marine crew was eager to see the nest, stopping by the next morning as Fahey and Dionesotes moved it.
“It was really great that they got to see why we do have that concern and why we do make sure we have somebody out there to account for any activity that might take place,” Fahey said.
The nest was the 11th in the state so far in 2014. Turtles are most active during June and July, and Fahey said it seems like the season is picking up. As of June 6, North Carolina had 46 reported nests.
The number of nests on Wrightsville Beach varies from year to year. Fahey reported numbers have declined since the early 2000s, except for big years in 2005 and 2013, when 12 nests and eight nests were discovered, respectively. The summer of 1999 was a record year with 16 nests.
“We don’t really know why the turtles choose to nest where they nest or why they choose to ignore beaches that are otherwise a good spot,” Fahey said, continuing that issues at other nesting sites like erosion and wash-over could lead to another exciting nesting season.
“It’s a great way to start the season. I think maybe she was bringing us a message of hope. … If she can do it in a renourishment site, the rest of them can certainly come after,” Fahey said.
The nest will be checked daily for disturbances. In 60 days, volunteers will begin sitting with the nest from dusk until midnight every night to wait for the eggs to hatch.