Sea Turtle Protection

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Sea Turtle Protection Program

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!

Nesting Season: early-May to late-August
Hatching Season: early-July to late-October

If you see a nesting, injured, or dead sea turtle or hatchling on the beach,
please call our Wildlife Emergency Hotline at 910-457-0089 x 5
We are unable to share locations of specific sea turtle nests or share information on which nests are hatching under the stipulations of our permit through the State of North Carolina. 

*Pictures taken during conservation activities authorized by state and federal agencies

History

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.

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!

How can I help the sea turtles?

  • Stop by Turtle Central for a red flashlight or red turtle sticker for your phone or handheld device. Turtles are disoriented by white light, but can’t see red light!
  • Fill in holes on the beach and pack up your beach equipment. Turtles can easily fall into holes or run into your beach gear if left overnight!
  • Always remember your reusable shopping bags to help reduce the use of plastic.
  • Join the Sea Turtle Protection Program Team
    • College Students or Recent Grads: Apply to become a Sea Turtle Intern! Visit our Job Openings page for available internship opportunities
    • High School Students: Apply to our Nest Monitor Apprenticeship! Visit our Job Openings to see if applications are being accepted
    • Families: Adopt-a-Nest! Visit our Adopt-A-Program page for more information. Become a Nest Monitor! Email us at volunteer@bhic.org for more information

If you see a nesting, injured, or dead sea turtle or hatchling on the beach, please call our Wildlife Emergency Hotline at 910-457-0089 x 5.  We are unable to share locations of specific sea turtle nests or share information on which nests are hatching under the stipulations of our permit through the State of North Carolina.

Have a question?