Turtle Patrol

One of the coolest things about Masonboro Island (and one of hottest topics) is that sea turtles frequently nest along the beachfront and occasionally on the sound side.  If you have visited Masonboro during the summer months you have likely seen a nest site that has been marked with a sign and perhaps a protective screen over the site.  Interestingly enough, the Coastal Reserve stopped using surveyor tape to delineate the nest sites because there was speculation that tape attracted predators.  Identifying these sites early is critical to helping more eggs end up as baby turtles swimming in the ocean rather than breakfast for hungry foxes that also patrol the beach.

That is where Masonboro.org came in last summer…  A number of Masonboro.org members attended a turtle volunteer orientation and workshop last spring at the UNCW Center for Marine Science.  The turtle program was headed up by Heather Stoker, a recently graduated grad student from UNCW, and Hope Sutton of the Coastal Reserve.  The turtle folks would be walking the entire length of Masonboro every day from late-May through mid-August.  It became clear at that meeting that the Coastal Reserve needed help getting the UNCW interns and volunteers to the island.  Masonboro.org asked them which day was the hardest to man, and Sunday became our day to ferry folks to and from the island.  It was the first year the Coastal Reserve patrolled the entire island every day.  Hope Sutton said, “Our three interns logged over 270 miles each during the summer.”  Quite impressive.

Every Sunday at 5:30am a Masonboro.org boat captain met the UNCW intern and volunteers at Trails End Rd. and took them to (usually) the north end of Masonboro.  The boat captain would then wait to receive a phone call from the volunteer (anywhere from 8:00-11:00) and head to Carolina Beach inlet to pick them up.  Jeff Tysinger headed up this effort for Masonboro.org and said, “I really enjoyed dropping them off and heading down to Carolina Beach inlet where I just waited and sometimes fished until they were done.  It was the best time of day because it was so peaceful and quiet.” If you think you might like to help ferry turtle folks during the 2012 season, Hope will be conductingrequired boat safety inspections on June 2, from 3-6pm at the UNCW Center for Marine Science.

In addition to identifying and protecting nests, 2011 was the second year that the Reserve had collected DNA material from egg shells to help with a University of Georgia study to determine patterns of where specific turtles lay their eggs year after year.  This study covers NC, SC, and GA.  Pretty cool…  The goal of the volunteers was to get to the nests before the foxes did.  Nearly every nest (96%) had been predated to some degree by foxes during the summer of 2010 before the volunteers could get there.  In order to protect more nests during 2011, occasionally the UNCW interns would use a specially designed bicycle to patrol the beach more quickly.  One of these bicycles was provided by Masonboro.org.

2011 produced 38 nests on Masonboro compared to 24 in 2010.  Only 58% showed signs of some predation, but 10 were wiped out by hurricane Irene.  Hopefully through continued efforts on the part of the Coastal Reserve, UNCW, and Masonboro.org, the success rate for turtle hatchlings will continue to rise.  Please contact Masonboro.org if you have interest in becoming a volunteer to identify nests or helping with the ferrying effort in 2012! 

Jack Kilbourne is co-founder and current treasurer of Masonboro.org.  He is a frequent visitor to the island with his wife, two children, and golden retriever.