OBX Sea Turtles (2015) – Nest #2

OBX Sea Turtles (2015) – Nest #2


Matthew Godfrey, the head marine biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, has asked that we try a new “free range” system for monitoring sea turtle nests on the Outer Banks during our emergence vigil. He is attempting to gather documentation on the disorientation of the hatchlings as they emerge from the nest and begin their perilous trek to the ocean.

As you know, it is their nature to head for the brightest thing they can see. Before the dinosaurs, the brightest thing was the white of the waves and the base of the horizon over the water. Human beings have drastically changed that, however. We wear white clothing and carry white flashlights and cell phones with bright LED screens. The oceanfront houses have bright lights, both inside and outside, that lead our little turtles astray. It has been found that, if house lighting on the beach is reduced, the hatchlings are more likely to go straight to the sea. This is important because the most dangerous time in their life is the time they spend between emerging from their nest and reaching the relative safety of the sea.

With the gathered documentation, Matthew plans to approach the governing bodies of the coastal areas and seek a lighting ordinance. These ordinances would restrict the amount of ambient light coming from the houses. Similar ordinances have been implemented in several coastal states, which increases protection for these endangered species.

In an attempt to gather this documentation, Matthew would like us to use only one red light during emergence. While turtles can detect red light, it is not the lure that white light is. With no runway and no berm to contain the turtles, they will have free range to wander the beach as they move to the sea. With these changes, Matthew will better be able to present documentation on the disorientation caused by lighting during sea turtle emergence.

The volunteers of Nest #2, under the supreme leadership of nest parent Dennis Pohl, have agreed to allow their hatchlings free range of the beach. They did not build a smooth runway to simplify the trek to the sea. As the hatchlings roam the beach climbing the mounds of human footprints, it is hoped that they will still head straight for the sea. Any turtles that stray from the area and appear to be disoriented will be documented.

This nest was a perfect control nest for the study of the distracting lights. As you can see, each night the volunteers line a roped-off area beside the nest waiting for the turtles to emerge. The loggerhead turtles generally hatch in the dark. It has been our experience that most hatch between 9:00PM and midnight. On Night 58 the nesters went home at 1:00AM. Dennis came back to check his nest before his morning ATV patrol at 5:00AM. Once again, NEST was snookered by the turtles. There were many little footprints from the nest to the sea. The hatchlings emerged with no one around to monitor them. Dennis’s early morning visit paid off as he watched one little turtle enter the water. As he walked back to the Nest #18, more little loggers emerged and gave him a special private showing. He deserves his own show for all of the effort he puts forth for the sea turtles.

Unfortunately, this controlled study area yielded no documentation for Matthew’s study. The next afternoon a visitor snapped a picture of a single little hatchling heading to the sea. That has been the extent of the turtle emergence at Nest #2. Three days after their secret boil, the nest will be opened for inventory.