Though early in the 2019 season, loggerhead sea turtles have already established more nests on Wrightsville Beach this year than all of last year’s total.
So far, volunteers have found three nests on Wrightsville Beach, including the latest find, which is a nest next to a lifeguard stand.
“Three nests is a good number for this early in the season,” said Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project director Nancy Fahey. “We’re hoping for a continued uptick in activity, which so far looks promising.”
Fahey said that in addition to the three nests, there have also been three “false crawls,” which occurs when a turtle comes to shore but isn’t comfortable with the area to lay eggs and create a nest.
So far, all of the nests are on the island’s North End, Fahey said. In addition to the nest by the lifeguard stand north of Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, there are also nests near Sand Dollar Lane and Wrightsville Dunes.
Nest counts can vary from year to year, as 2018 saw only two nests laid on Wrightsville Beach. While there were 10 nests in 2017 and 15 in 2016, there were only four in 2015 and just one nest in 2014 in Wrightsville Beach.
Thanks to participation in a DNA study of turtle nests, Fahey said she will be able to confirm her hunch that one of the nests is from a loggerhead mother who has laid eggs on Wrightsville Beach before. The nest near Wrightsville Dunes is in almost the exact spot and positioned nearly the same way as a nest from 2016, Fahey said. Since the turtles nest every two to three years, it could be a nest from the same mother.
“We had a nest almost exactly in that same spot. The turtle came in, faced north and dug her nest right at the base of the dune. This nest looks exactly like that nest,” Fahey said. “It’s kind of amazing. It will be interesting to see if this is the same turtle.”
The Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project has nearly 100 volunteers this year, Fahey said, many of whom walk the beach early in the morning to find evidence of a nest. If one is found, it is cordoned off to prevent it from being disturbed.
During the months of May, June, July and August, loggerhead sea turtles crawl out of the Atlantic Ocean to lay their nests on the shores of Wrightsville Beach. A loggerhead mother uses her rear flippers to dig a nest chamber in the sand, then deposits approximately 100 round, white leathery eggs. The turtle then covers the nest chamber, concealing it with sand, and crawls back to sea, never to meet her offspring. The eggs incubate for approximately 60 days before hatchlings emerge.
Fahey said she believes the first nest will hatch sometime in mid-July. Once it is closer to the time of hatching, volunteers will monitor the nest day and night.
But while the nesting season has so far been encouraging, Fahey said that the Memorial Day weekend boat traffic was deadly for turtles, with three being killed before volunteers were able to save one. Fahey credited the save due to a call from a boater, who noticed that the turtle appeared injured.
The turtle was spotted near Dockside Restaurant and volunteers were able to relocate the turtle to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail, N.C.
“Thanks to that report, we were able to get the turtle, which was awesome, because I don’t know if it would have made it through the weekend where it was located,” Fahey said. “Had the boater not let us know, we would have never known to go look for it.”
Fahey encouraged anyone who sees a turtle in what looks like an unreasonable situation to report it at (910) 612-3047.
“It’s very important to give us a call,” she said. “We depend on the public to be eyes and ears on the water.”