By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on September 24, 2020
As Hurricane Teddy churned off the coast and caused significant ocean overwash along the Outer Banks this week, volunteers from the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.) were keeping a close eye on sea turtle nests that had not yet hatched on the northern Outer Banks.
N.E.S.T.’s NC Wildlife Commission advisor Karen Clark told the Voice that before the storm, there were 15 remaining nests in the organization’s coverage area, which stretches from the Virginia line to the southern boundary of Nags Head.
She said that once the rough weather passes, N.E.S.T. volunteers will assess those nests. But over the last week – before and during the storms – the organization’s volunteers were working to monitor the nests and save the ones they could.
While N.E.S.T. volunteers are familiar with hurricanes coming through at a time when many nests are getting ready to hatch, Clark said this most recent storm event felt different with it staying offshore, no evacuation orders, and volunteers remaining on the island while the nests were being hammered by heavy surf.
Clark said that N.E.S.T. volunteers relocated at least two nests that had become uncovered during the storm. “We had volunteers out there dodging the tides when eggs were exposed. Once the eggs were exposed, they got re-located.”
When the storm came through, she said, some nests were near emergence “so we’ve sent off a couple of nests [to the ocean] actually during the storm.” In one case, Clark said the escarpment was encroaching on a nest in Duck and volunteers went out to watch to see if it would reach the nest.
“Sure enough, it cut through the sand and just a ball of little hatchlings just went swimming out into the ocean,” she said.
Also, on the morning of Sept. 18, before the storm struck, the organization evacuated a Kill Devil Hills nest where they knew the hatchlings had already emerged. “We opened that one up and got the hatchlings out before the next high tide…and sent them right out into the ocean,” Clark noted.
“Some might have just a little bit of sand left on top of them while others are absolutely buried in sand, and so we’ll take the levels back closer to kind of the original height [of sand],” Clark said. “There are a few that have been underwater for a good amount of time and once we get past a certain date after the storm, we will probably go in and evaluate the eggs, and probably excavate those.”
Clark noted that signs marking off turtle nests were removed in anticipation of the storm. If beachgoers do see areas that are quartered off and may look like a nest, she asked that they continue to respect those areas. Also, with the storm and emerging nests, there could be hatchlings that wash up on the beach. In that case, Clark advised the best course of action was to try to get them back to the water or call the N.E.S.T. hotline.
There have been 36 sea turtle nests this season in N.E.S.T.’s coverage area, the second highest count on record — behind 2016 when there were 52, according to Clark. She added that while there is definitely an ebb and flow to the number of nests year to year, the overall number in the Outer Banks region over the last 10 years has been increasing.