If you’re new to the Island, one of the first things you’ll notice on the beach are small cages buried in the sand with a sign and a number. These cages protect the nest of Loggerhead Turtles, an endangered species that have been laying eggs on Bald Head for centuries. Late at night, in May-August, female turtles come to lay between 100 – 120 eggs on the same beach where they were born. However, the turtles are rarely alone when laying, the Bald Head Island Conservancy has interns who patrol the beach and tag the turtles with P.I.T.s (Passive Integrated Transponders) as they lay their eggs in a trance-like state. Each P.I.T. tags have an unique identification number and correspond with an antenna that lets the Conservancy know when the turtles are close to the island so they can prepare to protect the nest. After the turtle is finished laying her eggs, she will bury them and then return to the ocean, as laying the eggs is the only role she plays in the hatchlings’ life. Once she has left, the conservancy will place a cage over the nest to protect it from predators and record the data from the turtle to be able to predict a rough estimate of a hatch date (50-60 days later). The babies will hatch sometime in the late evening to early morning, usually when it is dark, and use the light of the moon to find their way to the ocean.
While on the beach, the Conservancy asks that you not touch the enclosures or disrupt the sand around it; however, there are ways to see the baby turtles. If you are a member of the Conservancy, you have the ability to sign up for Turtle Walks! An intern or conservancy staff will take a group around the island’s beaches, stopping at nests that are expected to hatch, and waiting for a short period to see if there is any activity (It must be noted that due to COVID-19, you will need to call ahead and schedule your walk with a party of less than 10). Similarly, if you are a full time summer resident of the island, you can email the conservancy about becoming a nest monitor. As the hatch date gets closer, nest monitors stay with the nests starting around dusk, build runways, watch for any signs of the hatchlings below the sand, and contact the conservancy if there is any chance of hatching. However, if you are not a member of the conservancy and do not live here during the summer, do not fear! Approximately three days after a nest hatches, the Conservancy will have an excavation mid afternoon to see if there are any turtles still buried below that just were not able to reach the surface.
This is a great opportunity to see baby turtles up close but in a manner that is safe for the babies! Turtle protection is an integral part of Bald Head Island, if you see an injured turtle or any hatchlings please contact the conservancy at 910-457-0089 immediately. For more information on the Bald Head Island Conservancy, please visit https://www.bhic.org/