Nancy Fahey has been named Lumina News Person of the Year for 2012. Fahey is the project coordinator for the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project (WBSTP), and is recognized for 17 years of outstanding commitment to the project. Despite a less than stellar nesting season — only three sea turtle nests were found on Wrightsville Beach this season — Fahey could be found combing the beach strand for tracks, responding to reports of strandings or educating others about the sea turtle just about every day this summer.
“I don’t feel I deserve any recognition for what I do,” Fahey said upon receiving the award on Dec. 21. “I do what I love to do, and the reward is the gratification I get from being able to help these magnificent, ancient creatures.”
Fahey is originally from Elkins, W.Va., a small town near Snowshoe Mountain. She moved to Wilmington shortly after graduating from high school and attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she earned a degree in education. When Fahey arrived in Wilmington, she had never even seen a sea turtle.
It was two friends, Frank and Angela Smith, who first introduced Fahey to the WBSTP in 1995. She started out nest sitting and conducting early morning patrols of Zone 3 — the high-traffic length of beach strand between Stone Street and Johnnie Mercer’s Pier — as a fun activity to share with her then 7-year-old son.
“We saw some interesting things in the morning,” Fahey said, laughing. “But we also got to see hatching eggs and hatchlings that summer, and I was totally hooked.”
Over the years she became more involved, and went to sea turtle stranding workshops as well as various other activities offered by state leaders in the sea turtle conservation effort. This qualified her to take over the project when the opportunity arose in 2004.
Unfortunately, that year “the bottom dropped out,” and record low numbers of nests were reported throughout the state. While previous years had averaged eight to 10 nests per summer, 2004 yielded just one. And worse, that nest was washed out by a tropical storm just as the eggs were beginning to hatch.
“I got a call from a gentleman on the beach who saw hatchlings literally being washed out of the nest,” Fahey said. “I freaked out. I came flying down here and called Jean Beasely (director of the Karen Beasely Sea Turtle Hospital on Topsail Island), who said I needed to just get down there and save as many as I can.”
By the time Fahey arrived in Wrightsville, all of the hatchlings but one had drowned. She named the resilient turtle “Little Wrightsville,” and brought it to the sea turtle hospital for rehabilitation. After several days, Little Wrightsville began to eat. After several months at the hospital, Little Wrightsville — along with about 50 other turtles rescued from area beaches — hitched a ride out to the Gulf Stream with the United States Coast Guard.
“Every juvenile or sub-adult turtle we can save represents another 10,000 hatchlings that won’t make it,” Fahey said. “I think what we do makes a huge impact in helping the species survive.”
Fahey doesn’t see any end to her involvement with the WBSTP.
“It’s a big part of my life,” she said. “I really love it. It’s an honor to get to do this, and to work with all the awesome volunteers. I can’t even imagine what I would do without all of them. They dedicate and devote so much of their time. They go above and beyond, and they’re inspiring to me.”