Many North Carolina beaches set records for the number of sea turtle nests this summer. However, as Hurricane Dorian approached many feared it would bring an unfortunate end to the season.
In Florida, officials said thousands of nests in erosion zones were thought to be destroyed in the storm from overwash after Dorian basically stalled off the state’s east coast for days as it devastated the Bahamas.
Fortunately, it looks like North Carolina fared better.
Sarah Finn, coastal wildlife biologist and sea turtle stranding coordinator with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said she’s still getting reports from volunteers but believes North Carolina didn’t lose many nests during the storm.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area on Pleasure Island, said that some of the beaches at the park did see overwash, and as a result, they lost 13 nests. A total of 159 nests were laid at the park and about 100 had hatched before the storm. The area also lost several nests during the king tides before the hurricane arrived.
Sea turtle hatchlings face many risks before they reach maturity, from predators to tides and hurricanes.
It is part of the life cycle and repopulation strategy to spread out the risk, which is why each nest has so many eggs. Not all nests produce hatchlings and not all hatchlings survive.
At Fort Fisher, park rangers are still watching the 17 nests that remain, including one that was laid the day before Hurricane Dorian arrived.
Volunteer groups helped relocate some nests days before the storm in preparation. Beachgoers and vacationers pitched in with shovels to help create a sand barrier around vulnerable nests at many North Carolina Beaches.
Volunteer groups like the Pleasure Island Sea Turtle Project and Ocean Isle Beach Sea Turtle Protection Organization said they fared well — although one nest was lost in each area.
Deb Allen, with the Ocean Isle Beach organization, said volunteers found a nest set-up (which includes mesh netting and a cage to protect the eggs from predation) washed up onto the dunes as the eggs were washed away and dug up by a fox. They don’t yet know if all of the remaining nests are viable.
The Ocean Isle Volunteers help rescue a juvenile green turtle trapped in a tide pool created by the storm. Volunteers were eventually able to get it back into the ocean.
Both Topsail Island and Fort Fisher are still waiting on a full reports of the total nests, but it is possible some of the nests thought to be lost may still be there, but with posts and markings gone they could be difficult to locate.