By Karen Sota
Ready or not, we’re about to march into the summer just hoping for the best. At the hospital we’re moving into a trifecta of sorts, dealing with three important aspects of our mission pretty much at the same time.
Our Topsail Turtle Project volunteers report that the nesting mamas have officially arrived with the first two nests of 2020 being laid on North Topsail. Since sea turtle ladies do not generally nest every year, there’s really no way to predict this year’s activity based on last year’s spectacular season. It’s very early in the game, with nesting continuing through August, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get excited about seeing these magnificent gals returning to our beaches. Keep your eyes peeled for turtle tracks, and if you’re lucky for an actual sighting of mom. Just remember to “social distance” from her, respect the process and marvel that there’s still something to celebrate in this world gone mad. And please, please do not dig cavernous holes in our beaches. Not only can they entrap sea turtles and break bones if somebody falls into them, but they erode the sand that has just been restored after the devastation caused by hurricane Flo and normal storm erosion.
Just as our staff was beginning to recover from a winter of record-breaking triple digit number of turtles under our care, we’re reminded that it ain’t over till it’s over. We continue to admit these pitiful critters, recently with five arriving in a matter of a few days. Most of these are little greens, but we did get in two beautiful, large loggerheads that unfortunately did not make it even with our exceptional efforts. Losing these large turtles is especially heartbreaking; they survived incredible odds just to get to that point in their lives. One thing we do is never give up on any turtle, but sometimes the turtle makes the decision.
And now that the island is opening up again the piers are filling with anglers ready to get back to fishing. And where there’s bait there are hungry turtles looking for an easy lunch. And for some reason, it’s always those darn the Kemp’s. Once the word gets out that there’s easy pickings they start to come in fast and furious. Last year they were being snagged so quickly that we no sooner got one in, “de-hooked” and settled in a tank than we’re getting another phone call with one or more en-route. Veteran anglers pretty much know the drill by now, but if it’s your first close-up with a hooked turtle the two most important things to remember are: DO NOT pull out the hook, especially if they appear to have swallowed it; and please leave about two feet of line attached to the hook(s) before cutting away any of your gear. The pier managers can assist you with the process and they have the contact information to ensure that the turtle gets the proper follow-up care at our hospital.
Please continue to report any sea turtle sightings (nestings, strandings, injuries) to Terry Meyer @ 910-470-2880 or Jean Beasley @ 910-470-2800. We will also pick up on the hospital line (910-329-0222) if the call comes into us during general hospital hours. The state of NC also has a stranding hotline that picks up 24/7: 252-241-7367.
Now, what you really want to know: when can you visit. Short answer is we just don’t know yet. Our governor has just now moved us into a modified Phase 2 so everybody is trying to sort out just what that means. We will open for tours when we can meet all the requirements and be sure that we can do it safely for staff and visitors. Things will be very different; we will not be able to safely accommodate our “normal” summer attendance of 800-1,000 visitors per day. Stay tuned; watch here on our website and on our Facebook pages for any updates.
By Karen Sota
It’s May, and the world has changed dramatically in these past months. But not on Topsail where our Turtle Project volunteers are back on duty just like they’ve been every year for the past umpteen decades. They’re out patrolling every mile of the island before sunrise looking for signs that mama turtles have arrived. No nests as of this writing but it’s usually mid-month before we see our first one.
Since last fall we’ve asked our locals and visitors to keep an eye out for cold-stun victims, mostly little greens who have been debilitated by cold weather and wash onto the beaches or into the marshes with the tides. We’re still asking you to do that, because believe it or not we’re still admitting these poor ailing critters who are just now reaching our shores. But we’d also like you to use those same eyes to watch for the big gals heading in. The arrival of nesting moms means a return to normal, at least in our sea turtle world, and anything resembling normal is what we all need these days.
Signs of a nesting are generally pretty obvious. There will be flipper tracks, both incoming and outgoing, leading toward the dunes. If mama thinks the spot she’s picked is a good one she’ll dig with her back flippers, deposit about 100 or so eggs, cover the nest and then fling sand around in an effort to disguise her work and protect her babies. She usually comes in after dark and is gone before daybreak. There’s less chance of predators or other distractions. This is an exhausting task for a creature that lives in the ocean and is not equipped for travel on land - it can take an hour or two.
If you happen to see a nesting turtle please do not disturb her in any way, as she may abandon the nest losing her eggs in the process. Do not approach her, shine a light on her, or take flash photos, touch her, or block her path to or from the water. It’s a federal offense, and just plain wrong to interfere with her in any way. And if you do see tracks or a nesting turtle please call our beach director, Terry Meyer at 910-470-2880 to report it. She will make sure our volunteers respond and take the appropriate steps to protect the mama and the area and record the event. You may also call the hospital during regular hours: 910-329-0222. We had a spectacular 2019 but this is a new year and anything can happen. We’re all hoping for the best, not only for our mama turtles but for everybody on our fragile planet.
We are obviously closed for tours for an indefinite period. Nobody knows where this virus is going to take us, but we will not be opening to the public until it is completely safe for our volunteers and visitors to do so. We are as disappointed as you are. We love sharing our work with the world and hope we can open in some form at some point this summer. We are so grateful to all of you who continue to support us during this difficult period.