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.