Two hawksbill turtle nests are the first for North Carolina

A hawksbill turtle hatchling.
A hawksbill turtle hatchling. Kim Maison, National Marine Fisheries Service

Among the record 289 sea turtle nests logged this year on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, scientists found the first two nests ever recorded in modern times in North Carolina for a creature that usually likes warmer waters: the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Matthew Godfrey, sea turtle biologist for the state Wildlife Resources Commission, said Wednesday. “As far as I know, this is the first time anybody has documented hawksbill nests north of Florida.”

A DNA test confirmed that a single female hawksbill turtle buried a clutch of eggs on Hatteras Island in July and another one nearby, 53 days later. A count of eggshells indicated that 63 turtles hatched from the first nest in early September. The second hawksbill nest was destroyed by a nor’easter that scoured the coast in early October, the National Park Service said in a news release.

Loggerhead turtles, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, accounted for all but 44 of the 1,296 sea turtle nests reported on North Carolina’s beaches this year, according to seaturtle.org. Most of the rest were endangered green turtles, and this year the state recorded one endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtle nest.

Hawksbill turtles, named for their distinctive beaks, grow to a weight of 180 pounds and a length of three feet. Their brown and amber shells were the main source of tortoiseshell long used – before a worldwide ban in the 1970s – for combs and eyeglass frames.

Hawksbills are found mostly around Caribbean and other tropical reefs, but they range farther north along the Atlantic coast.

“We have a few records of them occurring in our waters, sometimes dead or stranded, but we’ve never seen a nest before,” Godfrey said. “It could be that this female decided to nest here and never will again. Only time will tell.”

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier