It was a brisk morning on Bald Head Island when I woke up knowing that there was an important task in front of me. I was going to run in the Turtle Trot, a 5K hosted by the local nature conservancy. The Bald Head Island Conservancy’s sea turtle program works to protect the endangered sea turtle population, as well as educate people on how they can help. Sea turtles are essential for carrying several microorganisms on long migrations through the ocean. Bald Head Island is a nesting place for many of these sea turtles. Thanks to the conservancy, the beaches on Bald Head Island have remained a safe place for sea turtles to nest, until recently.
A new pipeline designed to carry cement and raw materials from an off-shore dredging sight to the mainland is being built through South Beach. The pipeline runs the entire length of the beach, interrupting much of the sea turtles’ precious nesting grounds. Builders have had to excavate thousands of pounds of sand, rearrange protected areas, and drill through dunes. In addition to the beaches, dunes are critical for nesting sea turtles, providing protection from the wind. Some experts have estimated that the number of sea turtle eggs on Bald Head Island could be cut in half as a result of this new pipeline. This would not only be harmful to the environment but would drive sea turtles even closer to extinction.
Collectively, sea turtles can lay as many as 1,400 eggs a year on Bald Head Island’s South and East beaches, which contain several nests. Sea turtles that hatch on Bald Head Island have a significantly higher chance of survival due to the shallow waters surrounding the island. This shallow water protects the young sea turtles from deep water predators. Sea turtles that hatch on Bald Head Island are twice as likely to make it to adulthood compared to the global average. The island takes several precautions to protect sea turtle nests. Some of the precautions include preventing people from driving on beaches, putting surveillance cameras and fences around the nests, and sending experts from the conservancy out to check on the nests.
The Bald Head Island Turtle Conservancy does much more than protect the beaches. The conservancy organizes programs and events that are designed to spread awareness and educate people about the endangered sea turtle population. They also raise money to fund sea turtle conservation efforts around the globe. The Turtle Trot is just one example of an event that they have organized to fund their many valuable efforts. The conservancy put up a strong fight against the pipeline construction. However, they were overpowered by the immense profits that the pipeline could produce. It is sad to see money being valued over the lives of animals.
Running in the Turtle Trot was just a small part in a long uphill battle. As I crossed the finish line, I felt great elation knowing that I had helped protect sea turtles. The Turtle Trot was a great demonstration of how stewardship could spark real action. The abundance of offshore dredging sites has sparked the creation of several pipelines that have disrupted sea turtle nesting grounds around the globe. With less than one out of every thousand sea turtles surviving to adulthood, every nest that is saved plays a critical role in saving the sea turtle population and contributing to the overall health of the oceans’ ecosystem. Pipeline construction is not slowing down, putting sea turtles at an even greater risk of extinction. This is our time to step up and become stewards of these incredible creatures. So whether it’s running in a race, not using single-use plastics, or protesting pipeline construction, ask yourself how you can help.