Sea turtles nesting season is quickly approaching on Topsail Island, NC. Sea turtle nesting and hatching season begins on May 1st and continues through October 31st each year in coastal North Carolina. What does that mean for you? Well, residents and vacationers alike play a very important role in the well-being and care of these amazing marine reptiles.
Did you know that worldwide, six of the seven species of sea turtles are classified as threatened or endangeredâ€”mostly due to human influence and lifestyle? That's a sad but true fact, and the main reason why Topsail Island takes great care to protect its sea turtle population during nesting season and all throughout the year.
So what can you do to help? We're so glad you asked. Here are three of the very best ways you can help sea turtles during your Topsail beach vacation.
1. Respect the coastal environment and be mindful of your surroundings.Being mindful is so important, especially when it comes to the natural elements. Pay close attention to what's around you while you're on the beach and leave it looking as good, if not better, than when you arrived. What does that mean? Here are a few suggestions.
Fill in any holes you dug before leaving the beach for the day. Not only are they troublesome for people strolling the beach, but they are especially dangerous for nesting females and hatchlings.
Clean up after your day at the beach. Don't leave toys, chairs and other obstacles out that could cause problems for nesting sea turtles or hatchlings. They don't need any additional stumbling blocks to overcome on their journey. What they do need is a clear path from the sand to the ocean with as little distraction and disturbance as possible.
Pick up any discarded or unused fishing line and netting. These items, among others, could cause entanglement of sea turtles and other marine life. If you've been fishing, be careful to clean up and make sure you haven't left anything behind. If you see any extraneous or discarded fishing paraphernalia wash up on the shoreline, please pick it up and properly discard of it.
2. Turn out the lights and pick up trash on the beach.
Nesting female sea turtles and sea turtle hatchlings already work against the odds. Minimizing any possible distractions and impediments to their success is key to their survival. Two main ways that beach vacationers and residents can assist is by turning out all beach lights during nesting season and picking up litter and trash on the sand and in the water.
Turn off lights. Nesting females are often scared away by flashlights, headlights and fireworks. Although turtles are very persistent and will attempt to nest either the same night or the next, too many false attempts at nesting eventually require her to "dump" her eggs in the ocean. Eggs cannot develop underwater. Hatchlings also become disoriented by bright lights like walkway lights, or even inside lights or porch lights. They will attempt to cross over the dune and often end up tangled in vegetation or become easy prey once the sun begins to rise. Remember to turn off all porch lights when not in use, and close the drapes so internal lights aren't visible from the beach.
Pick up litter and trash. Never litter, and do your part to pick up trash you see on the beach, in the park, or on the side of the road. Even when it's not near a beach, all litter has the potential of being carried by the wind and making its way into our waterways and onto our beaches. Turtles can mistake garbage as food, especially plastic bags and balloons, which look like jellyfish. Garbage in general degrades the health of the beach environment, making fewer suitable places for turtles to nest, feed and live.
3. Don't disturb nesting sea turtles and report any sea turtle activity.
Keeping your distance from sea turtle nests and taking care not to disturb nesting females or their clutch of eggs is important. If you see marked nests, it's fine to look but please don't disturb them in any way. If you see an unmarked nest or any kind of sea turtle activity, it's helpful to report it to the local sea turtle monitoring and protective organizations.
Respect Marked Sea Turtle Nests. Areas that have been roped off or labeled as "off-limits" in order to protect the nest and hatchlings should be respected. Keep your dogs on leashes and make sure young children understand. Remember, sea turtles are protected under federal and state law and any activity that threatens that protection could be punishable.
Report Sea Turtle Activity. If you see any sea turtle activity, report it as soon as possible. The most important to report are sick or injured live turtles that need immediate care, and dead stranded turtles need to be tended to in a timely fashion. Call the NC Sea Turtle Project pager number at (252) 247-8117 and wait for a return call. Information on nesting females, turtle tracks, or hatching events is also greatly appreciated; call (252) 728-1528 or use the pager number. Sightings of sea turtles (assumed healthy turtles seen in the water) are also useful to biologists and can be reported by phone or email (252-728-1528, email@example.com).
Volunteer Your Time. If you're going to be on Topsail Island for a while, there are other ways you can become more involved with protecting and monitoring of the local sea turtle population. You can help them out directly by becoming a volunteer. Most of the beaches in North Carolina have sea turtle monitoring programs that could use your help and Topsail Island is no exception.
Volunteers are needed to:
- walk small sections of beach each morning from May - August to look for turtle tracks and nests
- help guard the nests as they become ready to hatch each evening from July - October
- respond to strandings
- transport injured turtles to rehabilitation centers
To become involved and learn about the needs of your local sea turtle project, contact the Beach Coordinator for the Topsail area, Terry Meyer at (910) 470-2880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
RELATED READING: What You Need to Know About Sea Turtles on Topsail Island
Don't forget to visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center during your next Topsail vacation. The Turtle Hospital, as it's called locally, is another awesome resource and one that makes a big difference in the lives of Topsail's sea turtle population.