Supplied photo courtesy of Nancy Fahey
The Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project helped 773 loggerhead hatchlings make their way to the ocean this summer.
Along the North Carolina coastline there were 1,295 loggerhead sea turtle nests reported for the 2013 nesting season, the most ever for the state. Wrightsville Beach accounted for eight of those nests and 773 loggerheads successfully hatched. Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project coordinator Nancy Fahey said the number of nests was average overall, but significantly up from past seasons.
Recently the highest nesting years for Wrightsville Beach have been 16 in 1999 and 12 in 2005. Fahey, who has been a volunteer for the WBSTP since 1995 and coordinator since 2004, said there are many unknown factors that determine what makes each season robust or sparse.
“We don’t know nearly as much about the turtles as we would like to because they are marine animals, they don’t spend much time on the beach,” Fahey said. “I guess every summer you approach it with a sense of not knowing what to expect because you don’t.”
After the high mark in 2005, the number of nests on Wrightsville Beach has sharply declined, with only one nest in both 2009 and 2010. Fahey said she believes the relocation of Masons Inlet at the north end of Wrightsville Beach in 2002 may have had something to do with the decline.
“The only correlation I can make between the decline and any major change is that the inlet was relocated at that time,” she said. “[The turtles] are great navigators. I think they know and tune into more than what we understand like offshore currents, sandbars and the profile of the beach.”
With the increase in nests, the WBSTP had more eggs to submit to a DNA study being conducted by the University of Georgia that will track the movements of the mother turtles. The study examines eggs from nests in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
To send off the eggs Fahey said the WBSTP volunteers had to remove one egg from each nest discovered, discard the embryo and harvest the shell. From the shell material, scientists will be able to find the mother turtle’s DNA and tell how many times each turtle nested and if she nested at multiple beaches along the coastline of those three states.
“We are really excited to get those results,” Fahey said.
Going into the turtle nesting offseason, Fahey said she and her volunteers are hoping the higher number of nests is a sign of an upward trend for years to come. Although the number of WBSTP volunteers dipped during the slow years, she said many stuck with the program.
“People are really drawn to the turtles and are fascinated by them so certainly people do find us,” Fahey said. “I do think it has a lot to do with the fact that sea turtles are elusive; they are really not part of our world and we rarely get to interact with them in any way. I’m going to remain hopeful, take this year as a good omen and hope that we can see more next year.”