Despite gusty winds that often blew sand into onlookers’ eyes, about a hundred people gathered between Wrightsville Beach accesses 3 and 4 on Saturday night to see something special: two baby loggerhead turtles making their way from their nest to the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s rare for most members of the public to get to see newborn turtles emerge from their nests, but the opportunity came during an excavation, which is done three days after each nest hatches to count how many eggs there were as well as see if there were any live hatchlings that were unable to climb out of the nest with the rest of their siblings. Nest No. 6 of the 2017 Wrightsville Beach turtle nesting season (which runs from May until October) hatched sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning during a storm, according to Nancy Fahey of the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project. Volunteers with the group, which patrols the beach for nests each season, sat with the nest until about 10 p.m. Wednesday night until lightning drove them from the beach. A volunteer saw turtle tracks the next morning, a tell-tale sign of a nest hatching, and called it in.
“It’s lucky that the storm didn’t wash away the tracks,” said Fahey, who was out of town at the time. Ginger Taylor, another volunteer, responded to the call. By the time she got there, “the nest was already covered up by sand blown by the strong winds,” Fahey said.
Due to her previous work with the nest, Taylor was given the opportunity to conduct the excavation. This particular nest had 126 hatched eggs (including the two stragglers that Taylor found Saturday night) as well as five unhatched eggs. An average loggerhead nest has between 115 to 120 eggs, according to Fahey.
“It was a good nest,” said Taylor. “I’m very happy that we found the two live turtles, and I’m glad we didn’t find any dead ones.”
Eleven-year-old Wilmington resident Cameron Johnson, who watched the excavation with his family, was also happy to see the two turtles make it out.
“I thought it was really cool how they crawled down and got washed into the ocean,” said Johnson, who said he also had the opportunity to see sea turtles earlier in the week. “It’s crazy how fast they can be.”
Taylor, who has witnessed several hatches over her 10 years as a volunteer, was also awed by the event.
“It was very exciting,” Taylor said after the excavation, the first one she’s ever led. “I was a bit nervous because you have to be very gentle with the eggs in case there are still turtles, but I’m glad I did it. It’s wonderful to be a volunteer and be a part of this.”
Ten nests have been found so far this season, making it the second year in a row that Wrightsville Beach has hit the double-digit mark. Last year, 15 nests were found by late July, the most found on the island by that point in the season, and the most found overall since 1999. While there’s still a slight chance more nests can be found, the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project volunteers are excited to see what the end of the season brings.
“We’ve still got four more of these to go,” Taylor said. “We’re looking forward to seeing more turtles.”