Turtle Sanctuary

A sea turtle nest on North Topsail Beach
On Topsail Island, a turtle sanctuary, sea turtle nests are guarded by volunteers from the moment they are discovered until the eggs hatch about 60 days later.  Morning walkers trek the island in search of turtle tracks, and once they find them, they let the experts at the Topsail Turtle Project know about it.  Then, Project volunteers come out to check the area where a turtle has done her work to determine whether she deposited eggs in the sand or made a false crawl.

Where there are eggs, the Project volunteers will mark off the area with stakes, plastic tape, and wire grating to protect the site from predators and from curious vacationers.  They label the nest with a sign that indicates the site is protected by law and a number that tells them when the eggs will likely hatch.

Volunteers build a ramp with their
forearms to keep the turtles on point.
When the time for the eggs to hatch draws near, the volunteers who discovered it will created a ramp leading to the sea to help the hatchlings make their way to the ocean without interference from predators such as sea birds and crabs.  (Crabs pose a serious threat; very often the dig their way straight to the nest, eating the eggs before they even have a chance to develop.)
For three nights, volunteers and curious vacationers will sit the nest by waiting alongside the ramp while checking it for a boil, the movement of sand that indicates there is activity in the nest, that the little turtles are emerging from their shells and making their way to the surface and then to the sea.

Topsail Turtle Project volunteers and others
escort the turtles to the water.
Turtles outlasted the dinosaurs--and everything else along the way--so they don't need a bunch of humans sitting in beach chairs along a sand ramp to help them do anything.  Many turtles make their way to the sea long after the humans have gone home to bed.  In fact, many turtles leave then nest in the stormy dark because they are less likely to encounter predators in those conditions.  They will take the wind and rain over seagulls and crabs!

Once the turtles make it into the ocean, they swim to the sargassum, and there they stay to rest and enjoy safety from larger, hungry sea creatures. Time will pass and they will grow until they weigh hundreds of pounds--if they survive the myriad dangers of the sea.  One day, the females will return to Topsail.  This is an important part of the magic and mystery of this island:  the turtles come home to lay their eggs and begin the cycle anew.  When they are born and come down the beach, they imprint the island, locking it into memory older than time and anchoring them to a place.
Volunteers and curious beach combers watch as newly
hatched sea turtles make their way to the ocean.

If you have the good fortune to witness a hatching, understand that you have become part of something very beautiful, timeless, and elegant in its rhythm.

Dinosaurs left the land when the dinosaurs came along.  But they never let go of the home they share with you now.  Respect it.
Turtle volunteers release turtles they have dug out of a nest.