Our Sea Turtle Protection Program conducts saturation tagging in an effort to intercept and identify every nesting turtle that comes onto our beaches. Our Team runs nightly patrols (9PM – 6AM), and when a turtle is encountered on one of our beaches, we apply a passive integrated transponder (PIT), a flipper tag, acquire a DNA sample, and take both straight and curved carapace measurements. All of the information we gather from nesting females is recorded in our historical database; so far, we have over 40 years of data on individual sea turtles that have visited Bald Head Island!
The information gathered from these tags provides valuable insights into the health of these endangered species. Through this research, scientists at Bald Head Island are able to better understand how sea turtles are responding to environmental changes and can use this information to inform conservation efforts around the world.
Efforts to protect sea turtles on Bald Head Island date back to 1980. Since its founding in 1983, the BHI Conservancy has coordinated and sponsored the Sea Turtle Protection Program, in cooperation with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Bald Head Island has been designated as an “index beach” by NMFS, making our sea turtle nesting activity and Protection Program nationally recognized.
After the nesting female returns to the ocean, our interns protect the nest from predation by burying a protective mesh cage around the nest - preventing raccoons, foxes, and dogs from entering the nest, while allowing the hatchlings to later emerge unimpeded. Before the use of mesh cages became standard practice on Bald Head, predation resulted in a high nest mortality.
Three days after a nest hatches, the Sea Turtle Protection Team and volunteer nest monitors excavate the nest. This serves two purposes: to take an inventory of the nest, and to release any “stragglers” that may still be in the egg chamber. An inventory is taken so that we can determine success rates of the mothers. We do this by counting the number of empty eggshells found and comparing it to the number of unhatched eggs. Sometimes, there are still live hatchlings in the nest, which we will release on the beach so they can make it to the ocean.
On our beaches, we typically see loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), and occasionally green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). We’ve also been fortunate enough to document one leatherback nest in 2010 and one Kemp’s Ridley nest in 2020 and one Green Sea Turtle Nest in 2021.
All seven species of sea turtles worldwide are either critically threatened or endangered, which is what makes protecting nesting mothers and hatchlings so important!
Three days after a nest hatches, Conservancy staff will excavate the nest to take an inventory of the eggs and release any hatchlings that are still inside.
Become part of our Sea Turtle Protection Program and support Bald Head Island sea turtle conservation.Donate
Get the chance to be inside the ropes for the nest excavation and potentially watch hatchlings make it to sea!Donate
Get the chance to be inside the ropes for ALL of the nest excavations laid by your adopted sea turtle mom.Donate
*All pictures taken during conservation activities authorized by NC State and Federal authorities