We are eagerly anticipating the arrival of some of our most beloved OBX National Park visitors: sea turtles!
Loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill (rare) and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles call Cape Hatteras National Seashore home and from late spring through early fall (May to October), female sea turtles emerge from the ocean to lay their eggs in the sand, where they incubate until the time comes for them to hatch and return to the sea. (In 2019, 473 sea turtle nests were made in the park, the most to date!)
Sadly, sea turtles are especially vulnerable to marine debris and light pollution.
One of the most harmful types of marine debris is fishing line. Sea turtles can easily become entangled in discarded fishing line (also known as monofilament line) which makes it hard for them to swim or eat. According to Cape Lookout Studies Program, fishing line is made of a strong plastic that is nearly indestructible: it would take an estimated 600 years for it to decay! Additionally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that sea turtles often think plastic items (like grocery bags, Styrofoam pieces and balloons) are food and eat them, which can result in intestinal blockage and death.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is also known for its dark skies and incredible stargazing opportunities, but floodlights, headlights, flashlights, campfires, flash photography and other sources of artificial light can disrupt sea turtles’ nesting habits and make them susceptible to nearby predators. Darkness is essential for sea turtle hatchlings, which are guided by light. When the beach is dark, the ocean reflects the moon and the stars, leading the tiny sea turtles into the waves.
So, how can you help sea turtles while enjoying your OBX vacation this summer? Here are some tips from your park staff:
Pack it in, pack it out:
- Take all of your trash and beach equipment (chairs, coolers, etc.) with you when you leave the beach.
- Bring an extra bag to the beach and remove trash and plastic when you see it.
- Avoid single-use plastics whenever possible. If you do choose to use them, think about how you can reuse them or recycle them.
- Discard fishing line in appropriate recycling receptacles. Your parks partnered with the North Carolina Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program in 2014 to install three of these receptacles on the seashore at Ramp 44 in Buxton, Ramp 55 in Hatteras and the Frisco Bath House.
Decrease your use of artificial light as much as is safely possible:
- If you are staying in an oceanfront property, you can close blinds and turn off unnecessary outside lights at nighttime.
- If you decide to take a moonlit walk along the shore, use flashlights only when necessary.
- You can also decrease light pollution at home by installing outdoor lights that point light downward, not outward, and by using a less powerful lamp or bulb.
- Beach fires are also a source of artificial light. Make sure that you build your beach fire according to your permit to minimize your impact on turtle hatchlings (permits are required for beach fires).
Know who to call:
- Report all sea turtle or sea turtle activity sightings to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Stranding Hotline: 252-216-6892.
- You can also call N.E.S.T’s (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) Hotline: 252-441-8622 or the North Carolina Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Hotline: 252-241-7363.
Lastly, you can adopt a sea turtle nest! With a minimum donation of $100, you can symbolically adopt a sea turtle nest at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Your support of our Adopt A Sea Turtle Nest program will fund projects and educational programs that protect and enhance Cape Hatteras National Seashore today and for future generations.
Our turtles are beginning to arrive this month, so it may take longer than 5-7 days to receive your assigned nest. There are a limited number of nests each year, so reserve yours today!
For more information on Cape Hatteras National Seashore sea turtles, visit: https://www.nps.gov/caha/learn/nature/seaturtles.htm.
Photographs courtesy of the National Park Service.