Sea Turtles Are Hatching on Lea-Hutaff Island

For the past several years, Lea-Hutaff has been playing host to an increasing number of nesting sea turtles.

This year is no exception, and now that summer has reached its homestretch, nests are hatching and tiny sea turtles are making their way into the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition to our work protecting, managing, and monitoring nesting birds on the island, Audubon North Carolina does the same for sea turtles, with the help of volunteers and partners. New for this year, we’re joined by colleagues from the Wildlife Resources Commission - Sara Finn and Mellissa Dionesotes - who have helped to increase coverage of the island. 

Monitoring begins with a daily search for tracks indicating a turtle has been on the beach.

Nesting emergences typically leave behind an area of disturbed sand called a body pit, where the female turtle has thrown sand around with her flippers to try to hide the location of her eggs, which she buries up to 36” deep.

WRC biologist excavating a sea turtle nest on Lea-Hutaff Island. Photo: Lindsay Addison/Audubon North Carolina

Each body pit is dug up to locate the egg chamber and the area is then protected, either with stakes or a cage in places where predation by mammals like foxes or raccoons is a concern.

Then, we wait.

Loggerhead sea turtle nests take about 60 days to hatch, and the little turtles might wait another few days under the sand before emerging, usually at night, and crawling to the ocean. This year, hatching began on Lea-Hutaff on July 18. Three nights later, the hatchlings emerged and hit the sea.

Sea turtle nesting season lasts from May through August in North Carolina, so we are still searching for nests, but so far, there have been 29 sea turtle emergences on the island—18 nests, six false crawls, and five probable nests. These are body pits for which the eggs could not be found, so we have to wait for signs of hatching to confirm if a nest was laid or if it was just a false crawl. That is already an increase from 20 nests and four false crawls in 2017.

We’re looking forward to monitoring continued hatching through September and into October.

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