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July 24, 2009

Sea Turtle Nesting: A Summer Guide

By Guest Blogger

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Volunteers watching a loggerhead turtle laying her nest (courtesy, Jeff Janowski/Oceana)

Just as many people make regular summer pilgrimages to the beaches along the Southeast coast of the U.S., so do some of the ocean’s most ancient creatures: sea turtles. Before hotels, miniature golf courses, and surf shops crowded the coast, these gentle reptiles have been swimming ashore to lay their eggs.

On Bald Head Island, North Carolina, I recently had the chance to see a nesting mother reprise this millennia-old ritual. After several nights of anxious waiting, I watched in the wee hours of the morning as a female loggerhead turtle deftly used her back flippers to dig an egg chamber, drop more than 100 golf ball-sized eggs, and then disguise the nest by wildly flinging sand around. Having used the Earth’s magnetic fields to navigate to the beach of her birth, she returned to the ocean, never to see her offspring, which will hatch around 60 days later.

It was a remarkable thing to witness, and while I wish I could say I’m unique in my experience, with a little determination (and maybe some caffeine), anyone can catch a glimpse of this natural phenomenon on many beaches in the U.S. Many regular visitors to Bald Head have integrated turtles into their vacation routine: play on the beach by day, watch for sea turtles by night.

Most loggerheads in the United States nest on Florida's beaches, but there are also nesting beaches in the Carolinas and as far north as Virginia Beach. You can also visit the shores of Caribbean islands, Mexico, and Europe's Mediterranean coast in hopes of seeing sea turtles. Six worldwide hot spots where you can catch a glimpse of this fascinating event are: North Carolina; South Florida; Oahu, Hawaii; Turtle Island, Fiji; Tortuguero, Costa Rica; and Ixtapa, Mexico. Your best bet is to find a local conservancy with a nesting program; naturalists can point you to the ideal places to watch for turtles.

While taking in sea turtle sightings, eco-friendly tourists can also help protect vital nesting habitats for these beautiful creatures. Unfortunately, sea turtle populations are declining around the world. The Endangered Species Act lists all six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters as endangered or threatened. Visit one of the serene spots mentioned above, and the fragile nature of this life cycle becomes apparent—as does the need for protecting these turtle nesting areas. In Florida alone, loggerhead nesting has declined by 50 percent during the past decade, in part as a result of commercial fishing gear such as longline hooks and trawl nets that indiscriminately snags turtles, dolphins, and other sea creatures along with fish.

Next week, Oceana will present seven steps to help defend and protect the sea turtle nesting sites.  Watch for this follow-up blog post!

Help sea turtles by respecting nesting sites, and by joining Oceana in the fight to protect turtles from commercial fishing gear. For additional information, visit  --Emily Fisher

Emily Fisher is the online editor at Oceana, an international ocean conservation organization. For more on her journey to witness sea turtles nesting in North Carolina, check out her six-part blog series.

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Eco-Tourism


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Very interesting! My family and I go down to the outer banks every year and it is not uncommon to see protected nesting grounds like these. Thank you for sharing your experience!

Nice article and i'm happy to see that people try to help all over the world! I have recently done the same on the Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. Seeing those turtles is truly magical!

Read about turtle conservation in Costa Rica here:

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