Hundreds of sea turtles climb onto North Carolina’s shores to lay eggs each year. The state has about 330 miles of ocean-facing beach that is potential nesting habitat for sea turtles. Four different species commonly nest in North Carolina: the loggerhead, green turtle, Kemp’s ridley and leatherbacks. All seven of the global species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened. These turtles face many predators in the wild — and humans also pose a great threat.
Guest host Anita Rao learns about North Carolina’s sea turtles from Michele Lamping, an aquarist and the sea turtle specialist at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. She is also the Atlantic Beach Sea Turtle Volunteer Coordinator.
Lamping shares her volunteer work to help protect nests and to protect hatchlings from human intervention as they head toward the surf. She also talks about what it takes to rehabilitate sea turtles and explains what beachgoers can do to make sure their summer fun doesn’t interfere with turtle nests.
What you can do to help North Carolina sea turtles, according to aquarist Michele Lamping:
- Remove your trash from the beach and don’t leave any beach chairs or tents behind. Anything on the beach could deter a female turtle from nesting or become an obstacle for hatchlings trying to reach the ocean.
- Knock down sand castles when you’re going home — these can also be obstacles to female sea turtles or hatchlings.
- Fill in any holes. Turtles can get stuck in them.
- Turn off your porch light at night. One artificial light can draw an entire nest of hatchlings away from the ocean and to their death.
- If you see a turtle, stay out of her way, stay quiet and keep the lights off. Any bright lights or loud noises could send the female sea turtle back to the ocean before laying her eggs. Lamping says it takes a little over an hour for a female to nest and it’s a neat process to watch — at a distance.
On the strategy behind laying eggs:
The nesting strategies between females are very different. You have some that will come and put all of her nests for that season, maybe within a mile or two. But then you have a different strategy of a different female, who may put her nest in South Carolina [and] then jump up across the border, and then may end up putting another nest, say, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. So they have very different nesting strategies.
On how female sea turtles choose their nest location:
Their whole investment is where they're going to put that nest, because once they leave the nest those hatchlings are on their own … And so it's really important that they pick just the right spot. They’re coming in, they want it in just the right area. They want it out of the water, out of the high tide. But they want it in an area that may not have a whole lot of predators. They want it in a low light, a quiet area. So they're really selecting the perfect spot. They also want the perfect sand temperature ... They’re looking for the right moisture in the sand. So a lot goes into that selection.
Why artificial light is harmful to sea turtle hatchlings:
Artificial lighting is a large problem because they're looking for that light source when they come out [of their shell]. And they have sand caked in their eyes. And they're looking for this light source and this cue to get them to the ocean. They're trying to find the ocean. They're looking for that moon, that reflection off of [the ocean]. And any light source that you can see from the beach is an artificial light pollution to them. They will follow that light source or multiple light sources, and they will continue to follow that source until they die.