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Please Note

During the months of May, June, July and August, loggerhead sea turtles crawl out of the Atlantic Ocean to lay their nests on the shores of Wrightsville Beach. A loggerhead mama uses her rear flippers to dig a nest chamber in the sand, then deposits approximately 100 round, white leathery eggs. The mama turtle then covers the nest chamber, concealing it with sand, and crawls back to sea, never to meet her offspring. The eggs incubate for approximately 60 days before hatchlings emerge.

We receive many emails inquiring about when sea turtle nests are expected to hatch. We cannot tell you this, not because we are withholding information, but because there is no way to know. Some nests hatch as quickly as after 48 days of incubation and others take as long as 72 days. Much like when a human mother is expecting, there is a “due date” but babies emerge on their own time, and the actual birth date can, and often does, occur about 2 weeks before or after the due date. Additionally, sea turtle nests hatch at night, and hatchlings can emerge at any time between dusk and dawn.

Identifying Turtle Tracks

Turtle tracks

Because sea turtles nest at night, under the cover and protection of darkness, it is very rare to spot a sea turtle in the act of nesting at Wrightsville Beach. So to find nests, volunteers look for tracks in the sand while monitoring the beach at dawn. Loggerhead sea turtle tracks resemble ATV tire tracks, with a flat section in the center created by the sea turtle’s body and flipper marks on each side. Each track is approximately 40 inches wide and there are two sets: one set from when the nesting mother crawled up toward the sand dunes and a second set from when she crawled back into the ocean. The spot in between, often marked by a gentle mound of sand, is where the nest is located.

If you spot sea turtle tracks on Wrightsville Beach, please call our turtle emergency number at 910-612-3047. (Please note this is for emergencies only. You will reach a real person and not a recording.) If you spot tracks that are flagged with neon orange stakes, the tracks have already been identified by a volunteer.

Nest  Counts by Year

  • 2017: 10
  • 2016: 15
  • 2015: 4
  • 2014: 1
  • 2013: 9
  • 2012: 3
  • 2011: 3
  • 2010: 1
  • 2009: 1
  • 2008: 2
  • 2007: 4
  • 2006: 4

Nests

On the third day after turtle hatchlings have started to emerge from their nest, the nest is excavated. This enables any turtles that have not yet crawled out of the nest to be set free.

Excavations take place rain or shine, as the three-day rule is an important guideline to ensure any remaining live hatchlings make it out of the nest chamber. A nest is only excavated three days after it has hatched naturally. Volunteers do not intervene with the natural hatching process or dig into an unhatched nest. During a nest excavation, trained volunteers extract the turtles from the nest. They also count the number of empty eggshells and unhatched eggs in the nest and record the data. This data is sent to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

The public is welcome to observe nest excavations and see the hatchlings take their first steps and plunge into the ocean for their long journey to the Gulf Stream. Please email us at wbturtlewatchers@gmail.com and ask to be included on the excavation notification list to be notified by email of excavation times.