May brings Green, Loggerhead sea turtles back to Onslow Beach

21 May 2014 | Cpl. Joshua W. Grant

Green and Loggerhead sea turtles have begun to return to their previous nesting sites throughout Onslow Beach to lay the next generation of eggs.

Each year, dozens of endangered turtles trust their young to the shores of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Base environmental staff says it’s up to the community to keep the base hospitable to the baby reptiles.

In 2013, the turtles hit their second highest number of nests since 1979 with 72 nests, said Craig Tenbrink, wildlife biologist for the Environmental Management Division aboard base.

“This is their breeding ground, so we have to do as much as we can to protect it,” said Tenbrink. “We caused them to be endangered from improper over fishing and intrusion of their breeding grounds, so now we’re obligated to save them.”

The nests spawned on Onslow Beach are often not laid by turtles who return each year, Tenbrink added.

“We track females who spawn on the beach more than once,” said Tenbrink. “There’s something that keeps them coming back, so we have to stay vigilant in our efforts to protect the females and their young.”

Female Green and Loggerhead sea turtles will crawl from the water up the beach to lay more than 50 eggs. They then cover them up, and return to the sea. The eggs lay covered in sand for 50 to 90 days until they hatch.

“When young turtles hatch, they can’t discern where they are,” said Tenbrink. “Their instincts lead them to the brightest thing they see which should be the ocean, but through human interference it can often times be a road or other dangerous areas.”

To prevent interference, everyone aboard base and the local community can play a part in the survival of the turtles, said Les Pearson, biological science technician with Environmental Management Division.

“Only 1 in 1,000 turtles that hatch make it to adulthood,” said Pearson. “If we can ensure their survival on land, it will help keep their species alive in the water.”

Beach goers should never disturb nesting females or hatchlings and should maintain distance if they see any turtles.

Patrons should also refrain from taking flash photography and keep outdoor lights to a minimum past 10 p.m.
Beach-goers are reminded to remove beach gear, including towels and umbrellas so hatchlings will have a clear path to the water, said Pearson. Leaving large holes or ruts in the beach can also trap hatchlings before they reach the water, he added.

“It’s a great feeling to work here for so many years and be able to see the same turtles I tagged years ago,” said Pearson. “We have to protect their environment so they can thrive and be an enjoyment for generations to come.”

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