Bald Head Island Conservancy

2023 Nesting Season Summary

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By Paul Hillbrand, Sea Turtle Biologist

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KKX238 returning to the ocean after being outfitted with a satellite tag.

The 2023 sea turtle nesting season on Bald Head Island (BHI) was highlighted by the deployment of four satellite tags on nesting turtles and surpassing the 100-nest mark for the fourth time in the last five seasons. The first nesting activity occurred on 15 May and the last on 18 August. The Bald Head Island Conservancy’s (BHIC) Sea Turtle Protection Team (STPT) patrolled the beaches of BHI for 168 days/nights (35 dawn, 60 partial nights, and 72 full nights), observing 122 nests, of which 46 (37.7%) were relocated.  We also observed 220 false crawls in summer 2023 when turtles crawled onto the beach but did not lay a nest.  For the first time since 2013, the STPT recorded 3 green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) activities, resulting in one nest and two false crawls. At least 59 genetically distinct individual females were responsible for the 342 nesting activities observed. The STPT also observed the return of 9 legacy turtles (Billie, Fluffy, Gigi, Granny, Mary Jane, Sandy, Scarlett, Thomasina, & Turquoise) and named 2 new legacy turtles (Lee Ann & Strawberry). The first hatching event was observed on 30 July, while the last nest was excavated on 25 October. The average incubation time for the 122 nests was 55.2 days.

A map of the coast

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Map of our satellite tagged loggerhead sea turtles (July 15 – Dec 3, 2023). Green = KKD855, Light Blue = KKX238, Blue = Sandy, Purple = Scarlett.

Approximately 13,588 eggs were laid on BHI, with an estimated 10,104 hatchlings making it to the water. Mean hatch success was 79.9%, while mean emerge success was 70.2%. Our most productive mom was a neophyte, FFK802, who laid 657 eggs that produced 530 hatchlings. Our most successful mom was Billie, with a hatch success of 96.4% and an emergence success of 94.1%. With a highly active Atlantic hurricane season, BHI was fortunate to have lost only one full nest to Hurricane Idalia. However, a total of 30 nests were impacted by a combination of hurricanes, tropical storms, and king tides. Additionally, one nest fell victim to coyotes, and a total of 10 nests were affected by island predators. Coyotes, ghost crabs, and fire ants collectively accounted for the loss of 442 eggs, representing 3.2% of the total.

The Conservancy’s STPT embarked on two significant projects this season. First, we deployed four satellite tags, outfitting KKD855, KKX238, Sandy and Scarlett with the devices to better understand post-nesting migration. This initiative aims to enhance our understanding of their movements across different habitats, including proposed wind farm lease properties. Second, in collaboration with UNCW post-doctoral researcher Dr. Matt Ware, we are investigating the impact of environmental parameters on nesting habitat suitability and geographic distributions. This research reflects the Conservancy’s commitment to comprehensive conservation efforts.

A group of people posing for a photo with a turtle on the beach

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2023 Sea Turtle Protection Team and Granny.

All sea turtle monitoring and research performed pursuant to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Endangered Species Permit #23ST14. Visit for more details on the Sea Turtle Protection Program and how you can support the sea turtles of BHI.




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