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Turtle Walks on Bald Head Island Offer Unique Opportunity to Interact with Loggerheads

Visitors can take part in Turtle Walks, Beach Ride Alongs and Nest Excavations  

Posted on Thu, Mar 14th, 2019 1:37 pm by joyoftravel.ca news services

Bald Head Island, NC  – Something magical happens each year along the 14 miles of beach on Bald Head Island – giant loggerhead sea turtles emerge from the Atlantic Ocean to lay their nests, and later, thousands of baby hatchlings make their way back down the beach to the same waters. These aren’t solitary events—in the summer and early fall (usually June – Sept.), visitors to this barrier island on the coast of North Carolina can take part in the Bald Head Island Conservancy’s Sea Turtle Protection Program by joining educators and naturalists as they patrol the beach for nesting turtles or watch over nests as they prepare to hatch.

The Bald Head Island Conservancy began in 1983 with the mission of conservation, education and preservation of the island’s coastal environment, and the sea turtle program has become one of their most popular initiatives. In 2018 the Conservancy monitored and protected 52 nests from 23 different mothers and watched 4,400 hatchlings make their way from the beaches and dunes to the ocean. Many of these same turtles will return to Bald Head Island upon maturity (usually in about 30 years) to nest – in 2018, 73 percent of nesting mothers were returning.

Visitors to the island have three opportunities to observe turtles either nesting or hatching. Turtle Walks typically start in early June and run nightly through August. The focus is on nesting mothers, and if they’re lucky, participants will get to witness one of these giant creatures crawling onto the beach, digging her nest, laying her eggs, and making her way silently back to the ocean. Some 50-70 days later volunteer nest monitors—often Bald Head Island residents and visitors—watch nests 24 hours a day for signs of “boiling,” where the sand above the eggs churns and moves as the turtle hatchlings dig their way out. When the nests hatch, visitors are invited to watch as the tiny turtles find their way down the beach and to the ocean. Following the hatching, Conservancy staff excavate the nest for eggs that didn’t hatch and bring them back to the lab to incubate until they’re ready. This process provides a unique opportunity for guests to witness a hatchling’s release once the baby turtles are ready to be set loose on the beach to find their way to the ocean with the help of the Sea Turtle Conservancy staff and interns.

Interns are an integral part of the Conservancy’s program and guests looking for a way to get a more hands-on experience can sign up for a Beach Patrol Ride Along, a small group experience that offers a first-hand look at how these future scientists patrol to collect data from nesting mothers, including nest location, shell measurements and DNA samples. After the nest is laid, the interns mark it, install an anti-predator cage, and in rare cases move the eggs within six hours of them being laid due to poor location or condition of the nest.

In addition to taking part in watching turtles nest and hatch, the Conservancy educates visitors on the simple ways they can adopt a conservation-focused lifestyle while on vacation. By implementing a few simple actions to daily routines visitors can help sustain an environment perfect for nesting turtles.Turning off beach-facing lights and shading beach-facing windows, filling in holes on the beach dug by kids playing in the sand, packing up beach equipment at the end of the day, using red film on flashlights when walking on the beach at night and keeping dogs on leashes are just a few of the actions the Conservancy encourages visitors to Bald Head to practice. Visitors can also create a legacy through the Adopt-a-Turtle or Nest programs.

Bald Head Island isn’t just a haven for turtles. The Conservancy has programs to introduce visitors to not only the 10,000 acres of protected marsh, tidal creek and ancient maritime forest on the island, but the hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, fish and mammals that make this area home. Children’s camps and hands-on demonstrations, island nature tours, fishing schools and more are available throughout the year and provide a window into a vacation destination where nature takes center stage.

Bald Head Island is a boat-accessed community located two miles off the coast of Southport, NC. Transportation on the island is restricted to golf carts, bicycles and pedestrian traffic. Of the island’s 12,000 acres, 10,000 acres of beaches, salt marsh and maritime forest are protected and will remain undeveloped. To learn more about the island, visit www.BaldHeadIsland.com.