Navy takes actions to protect sea turtle nests

Published: Sep. 9, 2023 at 2:56 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WTKR) - The U.S. Navy is doing its part to save endangered sea turtles.

The crew is combing through beaches across Virginia to protect and save the species.

Dam Neck Beach is four miles of protected pristine beach maintained by Naval Air Station Oceana.

Along the beach are naturalized dunes designed to protect against storm surges and preserve wildlife habitats.

This makes it an ideal location for sea turtles. Loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, and green sea turtles lay eggs here from mid-May through the end of August.

Captain Josh Appezatto and a team of sea turtle patrollers comb the beach daily searching for eggs just before sunrise.

“Looking for any signs of what we call a crawl, which would be a turtle emerging from the ocean and making her way up the beach to lay a nest of eggs,” Appezzatto said. “If a crawl is discovered, the patroller will phone in that crawl to our natural resource manager as well as the Virginia Aquarium, and those folks will come out and verify that a nest has actually been created by the turtle.”

It takes approximately 60 days for the eggs to hatch, but it could be shorter or longer depending on the weather.

There are around 100 to 150 eggs in each nest and the weather helps determine whether the hatchlings are males or females.

“With it getting warmer, what’s going to tend to happen is you’re going to end up with more females than males,” Michael Wright, Oceana’s natural resources manager, said. “Usually, we’ve been the northern range of our sea turtle population, so we’ve been generating a little bit more males in theory because we’re cooler temperatures.”

A lot goes into making sure these sea turtle eggs have the best chance for survival since only 1% make it to adulthood.

Sometimes eggs are laid in bad spots and need to be relocated.

“When we relocate, that’s either because it’s in a designated area authorized for relocation, or it’s because they’ve nested at or just below the high tide line,” Wright said.

Turtles continue to struggle beyond the nest.

“When the hatchlings emerge from the nest when they boil and make a run for the ocean, coyotes, ghost crabs, several bird species are just natural predators for the sea turtles,” Appezzatto said. “And because a lot of the species are threatened with extinction, they are endangered in some cases. We do our utmost to protect the turtles to help them make their way to the ocean.”

This includes building a barrier to help guide the sea turtles in the right direction.

Hatchlings make a run for light as soon as they emerge. In areas with a lot of light pollution, like Virginia Beach, turtles can get disoriented and travel away from the water.

Barriers help prevent that from happening.

Officials with NAS Oceana say they’re dedicated to protecting wildlife and natural habitats while being an active military base.