By Karen Sota
Summer is in full swing; the beaches are open and the mama turtles are here. Life on the island is good, except for one thing – holes. This is the “hole story.”
There’s something about a big sandy beach that just makes you want to plop down, run your toes and hands through it and then start digging. You might have a plan for a castle or sculpture. Or you might just want to watch water fill it up and then drain. But it seems that once you start you can’t stop – it’s kind of addicting. How big, or how deep can we go?
It’s generally harmless fun, until a hole the size of a VW Bug is abandoned by the excavator at the end of the day. For any living creature out on the beach after that, especially at night, that little project can lead to disaster. Every year we hear about people out for a stroll who stumbled into a hole and broke bones or were otherwise seriously injured. And if you think it’s tough for humans to be constantly looking out for these hazards, consider our mama sea turtles coming up to nest. There are no holes in their world, although goodness knows there are enough other perils they need to avoid. They have one purpose as they trudge their four-hundred pounds up to the dunes, and it’s not planning a zig-zagging route around holes. They keep going, not only right into the holes but also through abandoned beach paraphernalia like chairs, toys, and canopies.
It’s incredibly hard for a large turtle built for ocean travel to get out of a hole once they fall into it. It may even flip them over on their back, a dangerous position for so many reasons. Or they could become so stressed that they drop their eggs trying to climb out. They may be in there all night until one of our turtle patrol volunteers finds them during their morning walk. How would you feel exposed and vulnerable, out in the dark, alone in an alien world? After almost three decades of working with these incredible creatures we’ve learned many things, one being that they are sentient and keenly aware when things are not right, and they react in the same ways we do.
All three towns on Topsail have ordinances in place regarding the digging of holes and the use of beach gear. In general holes should not be deeper than twelve inches, attended at all times and filled in before departing. Beach equipment (canopies, chairs, etc.) left overnight will be considered abandoned, so if you leave it when the sun goes down don’t expect it will be there the next day. North Topsail even has specific rules regarding restricted placement around identified sea turtle nests. Violations regarding holes and beach paraphernalia are subject to fines in all towns.
We want you to enjoy our beaches, we love our visitors. We’ve spent millions of dollars on continuing re-nourishment projects since Hurricane Florence swept most of our beaches out into the Atlantic several years ago. You have a great place to come with your family and friends. Please remember that and respect our local environment and all the creatures that rely on our beaches for their survival.
As nesting season continues please 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.
Turtles hanging around the local piers looking for a quick snack are still getting more than they bargained for. If you happen to snag one of these critters who was out for an easy lunch 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.
Finally: when are we going to open again to the public? We don’t have a crystal ball, but we’re hoping the governor moves us into the next phase of reopening very shortly. In any case June is out of the question. Possible target date now is July 6th, but this is by no means carved in stone. Clearly we will not be able to accommodate our normal summer attendance of 800-1,000 visitors daily. Like everywhere else things will be quite different. We will be doing everything we possibly can to make things safe for everybody. Tours will be self-guided with very minimal contact with our volunteers. More details will be posted here on our website and on our Facebook page as we move closer to our anticipated opening date.