Slow sea turtle nesting season statewide

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With only one loggerhead sea turtle nest laid on Wrightsville Beach during the 2014 nesting season, Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project coordinator Nancy Fahey is already looking forward to 2015.

“The ladies took a year off, and that’s fine,” Fahey said during an Aug. 25 phone interview. “Nesting is very hard work. But I think they’re going to come back with renewed energy.”

Wrightsville Beach was home to one of the first loggerhead nests in the state, laid May 30. Although the lone nest was deposited amidst equipment for a beach renourishment project, Fahey wondered if the delayed project, which extended well into the season through mid-June, deterred females from nesting. Fahey said shifting sand bars near shore in the months following renourishment could be off-putting to nesting females.

Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said the 2014 nesting season has produced below-average yields compared to the the last 12 or 15 years. He attributed decreased activity across the state to a natural cycle of booms and busts.

The 2013 season was the biggest on record with 1,303 nests in North Carolina. Wrightsville Beach hosted eight nests in 2013, compared to neighboring Masonboro Island’s 29.

As of Aug. 26, the 2014 season produced 541 nests on North Carolina beaches.

With 10 confirmed nests this season, Masonboro Island also saw a dip in nesting activity.

Slow does not mean uninteresting, Hope Sutton said. Sutton, southern sites manager for the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, reported an unusually high proportion of green sea turtles nesting on Masonboro in 2014.

“This is the first time that we have on record since we’ve been monitoring that it’s half greens and half loggerheads. That’s really uncommon in the state, to have such a high percentage on any one island that are greens,” Sutton said during an Aug. 25 phone interview.

More green turtles means 10 possible nests discovered on the island could sprout surprise hatchlings. Sutton said green turtles dig decoy nests to keep eggs safe from predators.

“It’s thought to be a predator avoidance strategy. They’ll dig and lay their nest, but then they’ll dig false body pits. It’s much more challenging to figure out where the eggs actually are with green sea turtles,” Sutton said.

Excavation of at least one of three loggerhead nests on the northern end of Masonboro Island, where it is easiest to anchor a boat regardless of the tides, will be open to the public.

Two of the three nests were laid by a three-flippered turtle that climbed ashore five times, once every two weeks for more than two months. Her first nest, laid June 18, is close to hatching.

Sutton said an announcement of the public excavation will be posted on the Masonboro Island  Reserve Facebook page.

Nesting season continues through Aug. 31.

email miriah@luminanews.com

 

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