28 Jun A Day with Resource Management – Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Recently, I set out on a morning beach scan with the Natural Resource Management Division here at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The resource management team is tasked with patrolling the beach before sunrise to count the number of sea turtles coming out of the ocean to lay eggs. They are also tasked with monitoring shorebird populations and ensuring that shorebird activity is undisturbed by visitors by marking off designated park areas for them.
At 5 am, I reported to the Ranger Office and met the staff and the ranger I was going to shadow for the coming weeks. Shortly after, we set out in pairs to our designated beach area. On this day, I was lucky to be patrolling the southern portion of the beach. We made our way through the off-road vehicle ramp and onto the beach in Frisco, NC. Within minutes, we stumble upon quite a scene.
We had driven up to a Loggerhead Sea Turtle laying eggs, though we did not know that the turtle had laid any eggs, as the sites are checked for eggs after we check the rest of the beach for tracks. As we waited for the sea turtle to return to the ocean, a few locals and visitors came to witness the rare sight. The ranger that I was with stated that she had only ever seen a sea turtle in the process of laying eggs once before this and that I was lucky to see it on my first day out with her!
Once the turtle had reached the ocean, we marked the site of the potential nest and carried on. By this time, it was 7:15 am, and the off-road vehicle ramps had opened, flooding the beaches with trucks, SUVs, and humans, making turtle monitoring a complicated task. An hour later, we had completed the drive and had to drive down the beach to do shorebird monitoring. After a few stops, we reached the turtle nest site we had blocked off and searched for eggs. At this point, many of the beach visitors had swarmed around the area as they were interested in the process of relocating eggs. We found the first egg at 8:45, and the ranger I was with instructed me on how to move a turtle nest. She started with extracting each egg and keeping count of them, packing the cooler with the sand that originally surrounded the eggs to maintain the nest’s temperature. When she ended the count, we had a crowd of 30 or so beachgoers and a cooler of 164 Loggerhead Sea Turtle eggs.
As we moved to find a new relocation site, the lead ranger got a call from her manager, stating that storms from Tropical Storm Bret were moving into the area fast and that we had to move quickly. Once we found the site, the storm had moved just over the beach, but the rain did not start until the first ten eggs were placed in the new nest, and once the relocation process started, it must be completed. With torrential downfall pouring on us, we stayed out in the rain and finished placing the eggs into their new nest; by this time, it was 9:30, and we had been in the rain for approximately 30 minutes. Once the storm passed at 9:50, we finished the barrier to signify the presence of the nest to conclude the relocation.
The original nest of Loggerhead Sea Turtle eggs (left) and the finished relocation site with Ranger Hannah Prokop (right).
As we moved on from the nest to continue shorebird monitoring, I could not help but think of how lucky I was to witness such a rare occasion. From seeing a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, to relocating the nest all in a days work is an experience not many have had. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do this on my first day with Resource Management.