I’ve always wanted to watch baby sea turtles make their dash for the sea under cover of darkness. Imagine my excitement when I found there were still sea turtle nests to hatch while we were on Cape Hatteras…no luck for us, but here’s the hotline number so you can check every day when you’re in the area! Don’t miss it!
Sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, but every year on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, female sea turtles return to the beaches where they were born to lay their eggs, the next generation of sea turtles. Five species of sea turtles are found along Cape Hatteras, but only the loggerhead and green turtles nest here, the northern limit of their nesting range.
I’d love to have sea turtle photos to illustrate this post, but unfortunately, sea turtles nest in darkness, primarily from May through late August.
Approximately 60 days later (which can include October when we were there), the tiny baby turtles emerge in darkness, making it almost impossible to witness hundreds making their dash for the sea and relative safety.
Once the eggs hatch, the hatchlings use the slope of the beach and the reflection of the moon or starlight off the water to find their way to the sea.
Cape Hatteras beaches have been monitored by park rangers for the past 25 years. They patrol every beach each morning and mark any new sea turtle nests. They then monitor them every day until they find the hatchlings have made their mad dash for the sea in total darkness.
Each nest is checked to make sure all the baby sea turtles made it out. If there are baby sea turtles left in the next, the rangers will carefully excavate the nest and remove those “stuck” in the bottom. They put them in seawater and wait for an appropriate time to release them.
Visitors can witness the releases but they are not regular. While we were in Hatteras, there were two unhatched sea turtle nests in our beachcombing range. If they had hatched while we were sleeping and there were babies left in the nest, we could have watched them being released, usually at Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke Island.
Calling the Park Service at the following number will get a recording telling you if any releases are planned in the coming days and where and when to observe.
Sea Turtles Nest Excavation Hotline at 252-475-9629
We religiously called the hotline every morning we were in the Cape Hatteras/Ocracoke area, but to no avail. I hope you have better luck and get to witness a sea turtle release! Good luck!