Injured turtles recover in turtle Hospitol. (Photo by Gareth McGrath,USA TODAY NETWORK)

NC - Sea turtle nesting season starts amid challenges on and off the beach

As temperatures rise as summer approaches so do the number of sea turtles in North Carolina's coastal waters.But also increasing is the number of boats in those very same waters, and for the sea turtles that often can be a dangerous proposition.

For staff at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City, the warming weather means they'll be seeing more patients with damaged shells and flippers as concerns over rehabilitating cold-stunned turtles during the winter pivots to trying to save those struck by boat propellers.

Sometimes it can be a sobering experience.

The Brunswick County Sheriff Office's Marine Patrol in mid-April rescued a Kemp's Ridley sea turtle in the Intracoastal Waterway near Sunset Beach that appeared to have been struck by a boat propeller. The turtle eventually made its way to the sea turtle hospital for treatment.

But staff found the turtle, dubbed "Hope Sapphire," to be suffering from too many injuries to be rehabilitated.

Terry Meyer, the hospital's deputy director and conservation director, said not being able to save every turtle that comes through the hospital's doors can be tough. But, pointing to a pair of small tubs containing two of the hospital's newest residents, juvenile green sea turtles that had sustained damage from boat propellers, she said it's satisfying knowing that many more turtles have a fighting chance because of the work done at the Pender County facility.

That's not just through treating injured animals or giving curious visitors a tour of the facility. Hospital staff and volunteers work with local turtle protection groups, which walk area beaches to look for nests, and hold releases up and down the coast to raise awareness and interest in the sea turtles.

"It's helping get that awareness out there," said Meyer, who has been with the hospital for 27 years, last week. "They are such a charismatic animal, so people like to see them, experience them. But we need to have limits."

Nesting challenges

That's especially true when it comes to beach nesting season, which started in North Carolina May 1.

"Our No. 1 greatest threat is artificial lighting," Meyer said. "It's our biggest concern because the lights can not only disorientate the nesting female as she comes ashore, but also the hatchlings because they're going to move toward the brightest light they see when they come out of their nest, and we want that to be the moon or the stars as they make their way toward the ocean."

Predators like foxes and raccoons along with overanxious tourists eager to see and get selfies with a giant marine reptile that predates the dinosaurs are other challenges nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings can face.

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