By Mel Beasley
As they prepare to monitor and walk the beach in search of this year’s influx of sea turtles, the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project plans to host a free educational series called “Turtle Talks” to help the public understand the plight of the turtle population and what to do in the case of a turtle sighting. Meanwhile, the organization has completely filled its roster of volunteers and exceeded last year’s totals.
“We depend on the public to help us regarding sick or injured turtles,” said Nancy Fahey, president and volunteer coordinator for Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project. “It’s important for people to know how to handle encounters with turtles, and how to inform us of sightings.”
Set to start June 5 of this year, the new “Turtle Talk” presentations will include educational information about the turtle population, the struggles the species faces, and what the public should do in the event of a turtle or nest sighting. The presentations will be hosted at the North Carolina Coastal Federation offices in Wrightsville Beach.
Founded in 1994, the Sea Turtle Project relies on volunteers to promote the preservation and protection of the sea turtle population and their habitats. Volunteering for this season has already closed, as those interested in volunteering with the group had to attend the seasonal training session to work during this summer’s nesting season. The organization held this annual session on March 27, where Fahey reported a larger number of volunteers than the team saw last year.
“We had at least 75 volunteers,” Fahey said. “People literally had to stand against the walls, so it was exciting to see the new participation.”
Some of the goals for the organization this year, she said, are to employ extra volunteers to scout the beach, and organize additional educational courses at area museums and schools.
“We plan to go into the community this year and give educational presentations at schools and museums,” Fahey said. “Our best opportunity to educate is out on the beach where people can stop us and ask questions.”
So far, team members with the organization have not spotted any turtle activity, but Fahey said she has already begun beach monitoring on her four-wheeler, something she will continue to do until the official monitoring begins on May 1. Volunteers will start patrolling the beach on foot during the early morning hours as of May 15.
“If we spot a sea turtle nest,” Fahey said, “we will mark the location using GPS coordinates so we can keep coming back to the location to check for disturbances. We also mark the location with signs to let folks know the nest is protected.”
Members will continue to gather data from the animals by collecting one DNA sample and one egg from each discovered nest, she added. These samples will be turned over to researchers for study, something that provides information on possible changes in the animal’s well-being and the environment.
Education presentations are set to begin on June 5, at the North Carolina Coastal Federation located at 309 W. Salisbury St. in the town’s historic square, next to the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History. The sessions are free to the public and will take place each Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.
By Mel Beasley