Sea Turtles

Nichols the loggerhead sea turtle
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Topsail Island

An Outer Banks beach nourishment project has caught more sea turtles than expected.

Jackson DeWitt

October is clearly not happy. And when a 250-pound loggerhead isn’t happy, caretakers at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center have found that lovingly slapping her shell seems to calm her down.

“When something is upset, what is your first impulse as a human species? It’s to pat,” says Jean Beasley, the founder and executive director of the sea-turtle hospital. “So we did and it worked, the turtle calmed down. I think it has something to do with the wave cycle and the feeling of security.”

Loggerhead sea turtle
US Fish and Wildlife Service

  

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill may have proof that sea turtles use the magnetic field of the earth to find their way back to their nesting places after traveling hundreds of miles at sea during adulthood.

Scientists have long suspected sea turtles use their sensitivity to magnetism to locate their hatching sites, but tracking them over long distances and time spans made the theory difficult to prove.

Host Frank Stasio talks with J. Roger Brothers, PhD candidate at UNC-Chapel Hill and lead author of the latest study on sea turtle navigation.

Loggerhead sea turtle
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Sea turtles follow the earth's magnetic fields to find the beaches where they hatched to lay their own eggs.

UNC-Chapel Hill researcher and report co-author Roger Brothers says they want soft, undisturbed sand at the right temperature, but it's hard to guage that from out in the ocean.

“So the only way the female turtle can actually be sure that she's nesting in a place that's favorable for egg development, is to nest on the same beach where she hatched as a hatchling. The logic being that, “’If it worked for me, it should work for my offspring.’”

Fish and Wildlife Service worker on boat checking gill net full of fish
Pedro Ramirez, Jr. / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It's the height of commercial flounder season along the North Carolina Coast, but gillnet fishing boats have been banned from heading out. That's because a large number of sea turtles are still swimming in those areas.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries has temporarily closed areas in four Northeastern sounds and southern coastal waters to the fisheries. The agency was uncomfortable with the number of interactions fishing boats were having with endangered sea turtles since September.

Every year on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, female sea turtles return to the beaches where they were born to lay the next generation. The turtle digs a hole in the sand with her back flippers, lays her eggs, covers the nest and heads back into the ocean.

This summer, researchers report finding a healthy number of sea turtle nests — a good thing, since they are a “threatened” species.

USFWS/Southeast

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore researchers found at least 121 turtle nests since May. That's about half the record number of nests found last summer.

But Research Coordinator Britta Muiznieks says this year's count is average and she's not worried.

"Sea turtles don't nest every year. They nest every two to three years. There are no alarm bells going off because our numbers are declining compared to last year," she says.

Loggerhead sea turtle
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Topsail Island

In the fall of 2012 a severely injured loggerhead sea turtle was rescued off the coast of North Carolina.

The loggerhead was brought to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Island, and then was transported to North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine where a team worked on her injuries. The team named the turtle Nichols and began to figure out the extent of the damage.

Fish and Wildlife Service worker on boat checking gill net full of fish
Pedro Ramirez, Jr. / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A trade group of North Carolina commercial fishermen has proposed that the General Assembly raise their fishing license fees to pay for regulatory measures.

Flounder fishermen sometimes get endangered sea turtles caught in their gillnets, so federal law requires that the state hire trained "observers" to check nets regularly. The General Assembly only funded the observer program until next summer, but if there's no observer at all, the state will be required to stop all gillnet fishing.

Loggerhead sea turtle
Wendell Reed, via Flickr, Creative Commons

Carteret County's Board of Commissioners voted file a letter of intent to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service over new protections for the loggerhead sea turtle. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering declaring parts of Carteret County a critical habitat for the turtles. They are currently designated as a threatened species by the Endangered Species Act.

The Carteret County Shore Protection Office claims that existing protections for loggerhead turtles are enough, and that new guidelines would hurt business and tourism in the area. Pete Benjamin, who directs the Raleigh Field Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service, says the new rules will only affect federal activity.

Loggerhead sea turtle
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are estimating the cost of designating special loggerhead sea turtle habitats along the Southeast coast.  The federal agency released a draft proposal saying it will cost $150,000 annually to protect areas in North Carolina and five other states.  

Several live cold-stunned green turtles from Cape Lookout Bight
NC Sea Turtle Project

155 sea turtles were rescued off North Carolina’s coasts and beaches this year and treated for “cold shock,” caused by low water temperatures.  That’s more than usual, and about half the animals are still recovering. Wildlife officials reported a record number of sea turtle nests last summer. They say it's not likely high numbers will be seen again this season because the same turtles don't typically come back to nest every year.

Loggerhead sea turtle
Wendell Reed, via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, or "NEST", is running out of money. The group relies on donations to rescue sea turtles along  the North Carolina coast, and they are struggling to deal with a large number of turtles that became hypothermic when a cold snap cooled shallow water quickly.

The Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center has released 41 turtles on Topsail Island. More than 4 hundred school children came from surrounding counties to watch yesterday's event. The turtles were escorted down the beach and gently returned to their ocean home. Many of the turtles that were released had been found stunned in last winter's cold water. Jean Beasley, the center's director, said sea turtles are crucial to human survival.

Volunteers and wildlife rehabilitators have rescued about twenty endangered sea turtles from cold waters and beaches so far this month. Lou Browning is a wildlife rehabilitator on Hatteras Island who's been helping transport turtles stunned by cold waters to veterinarians.

"When the temperature drops quickly, we get a cold that comes through the sound and the water temperature drops dramatically, when it drops below about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, sea turtles have a difficult time and they become lethargic."