Discover the Famous Sunset Beach Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are having a bit of a moment right now.
The humble sea turtle has become the poster child for saving our environment. Images abound of turtles caught in fishing nets, ingesting plastic waste, or struggling to make it back to the ocean due to human interference. Maybe you even have a "save the sea turtles" VSCO girl living in your home, who might not entirely understand what she is promoting but she knows she needs a metal straw and Hydroflask to do so!
It's true, sea turtles are a threatened species. They get a lot of attention here on the North Carolina coast because they are so unique, special, and adorable. They are also very sensitive to humans and their influence is profusely felt along our quiet beaches.
Today, on the Sunset Vacations blog, we will tell you more about these roving reptiles, how you can see them when you visit Sunset Beach, and how you can protect them while you are here. Enjoy!
Sea Turtle Facts
Loggerhead sea turtles are the most common visitors to North Carolina beaches, and are considered a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Sea turtles are marine reptiles.
They are found in all of the world's oceans, and have existed since the time of the dinosaurs. The earliest sea turtles on record lived about 120 million years ago, were about 6 feet long and weighed about 2,000 lbs. The Leatherback sea turtle of today can get even bigger than that!
Sea turtles come ashore only to lay their eggs.
Female sea turtles return to the beach of their own birth in order to lay their eggs. They can lay up to 150 eggs at a time.
Mama turtles abandon their babies to figure it out on their own.
Once the eggs are laid, the mother turtle covers the nest and returns to the ocean. Once the babies hatch, they head straight for the ocean too!
Fewer than .1% of hatchlings make it to adulthood!
This is due mostly to the many, many predators on the beach for whom turtle babies are a tasty snack, but it's also due in part to human interference (bright, confusing lights, holes dug in the sand, and pollution).
The gender of a hatchling is determined by the temperature of the nest.
If the nest is warm and toasty (around 88 degrees), most of the nest will be filled with baby girl turtles. When the nest maintains a cooler temperature (around 82 degrees), expect 150 bouncing baby boys.
Sea turtles basically have magnets in their heads.
Sort of an internal GPS, sea turtles find their way around the ocean (and back to the exact beach of their birth) by using their magically magnetic brains (technically, particles of magnetite, which is a magnetic mineral). Baby sea turtles "imprint" on their beach and find their way back, even several years later! And my kids can barely remember where they left their shoes...
There are seven species of sea turtles.
They are the Hawksbill (smallest), Olive Ridley, Kemp's Ridley, Flatback, Green, Loggerhead and Leatherback (largest). All seven are threatened with extinction.
North Carolina is home to 5 out of 7 of the world's sea turtle species.
Most common are the green sea turtle, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley followed by the leatherback and hawksbill. All species are listed as endangered or threatened and are therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Spot Some Sea Turtles
Odds of seeing a sea turtle just floating along the shore are low, but here are some ways you can up your chances for an encounter of the shelled variety:
Enjoy a program through the Sunset Beach Turtle Watch.
From sometime in June through late August, the Sunset Beach Turtle Watch volunteers offer a free program: "The turtle watch program is staffed by volunteers that walk the beach every morning, sit at nests when the hatchlings are ready to emerge, and conduct informational and educational programs. The informational programs - named "Turtle Time" - are free at 7 pm on Sunday evenings beginning in June and running during the nesting months at the Sunset Properties Parking lot - weather permitting."
"The Sunset Beach Turtle Watch Program (SSBTWP) is a private, nonprofit program that solicits volunteers to help monitor turtle nesting at Sunset Beach, North Carolina."
Volunteers have the following responsibilities:
- Record nesting sites
- Move nests that may be threatened
- Record turtle hatches
- Help hatchlings reach the ocean safely
Visit Bird Island
Bird Island is an uninhabited section of protected land just west of Sunset Beach where all species, including Sea Turtles, are protected and safe from too many tourists. You might be more likely to spot sea turtles here than on a busier beach.
Ways You Can Protect Sea Turtles
There are many things you can do to protect our turtles, most of which involve a very hands-off approach! Here we will outline your responsibilities as a guest on their beach:
- Leave turtles alone. Never try to touch or crowd around a turtle.
- Leave their nests alone, too! It's actually against the law to disturb a turtle nest.
- If a nest is marked off, it's for good reason. Please do not remove the markers (usually wooden stakes and bright tape or ribbon).
- Avoid walking on turtle tracks.
- Turtles are very sensitive to light. Never shine lights (or use flash photography) around our turtles.
- Hatching season is from May to late October (prime tourist season). We ask all guests to turn off outdoor lights during this sensitive time.
- Don't litter! Pick up all trash.
- Fill in any holes you dig so turtles don't fall into them.
Report turtle tracks, nest hatchings, sea turtle activity, injuries or strandings to: Sunset Beach Turtle Watch – 910-579-5862 or Sunset Beach Police Department – 910-579-2151
It's always amazing to encounter nature when you are on vacation. Our sea turtles are part of what make our part of the coast so special. Please do your part to protect and preserve our beautiful sea turtles. It's easy! Are you ready to book a vacation to Sunset Beach? We can help with that, too. Start your search for vacation homes here.