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Adventures with Sea Turtles

 Caleb's Blog   -  Follow the adventures of the 2013 turtle interns at Hammocks Beach State Park!     
  • Thu, June 12, 2014 11:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Tideland News Writer

    Both parties in the long-running battle over a 289-acre mainland tract adjacent to Hammocks Beach State Park signed an agreement Wednesday to end a lawsuit and clear the way for eventual expansion of the park.

    Attorneys for the state and Charles T. Francis, attorney for the Hurst and Turner families of Onslow County, signed the negotiated agreement.

    David Pearson, president of the Friends of the Hammocks and Bear Island, the park’s support group, said the agreement should eventually result in the state paying the families $10.3 million for the land.

    The first move under the agreement came Wednesday afternoon, when the attorneys filed a “joint motion to dismiss” a Supreme Court review in the lawsuit, and that motion was accepted, according to the Supreme Court’s website.

    Pearson said the negotiated agreement itself should be filed in Onslow County Court early next week.

    Under the agreement, he said, the state Superior Court, where the case has resided since 2010, will be asked to end the case and award the property to John H. Hurst and Harriet Hurst Turner. It would be up to them, Pearson said, to then obtain clear title to the land, which might have claims by others, including members of the Sharpe family. If Hurst and Turner can obtain clear title, they would then sell the land to the state for $10.3 million.

    However, Pearson added, if clear title cannot be obtained, the agreement calls for the state to condemn the property and still award the money to Hurst and Turner.

    Pearson said he hopes that either way, the state will have title to the land along Queens Creek by the end of the year.

    Francis, the attorney for Hurst and Turner, did not return phone messages left at his office, nor did John Hurst return a message left at his residence.

    Pearson, however, hailed the agreement as fair to the families and great for the state.

    “It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said Thursday. “It’s been a dream of mine and of Sam Bland (former HBSP superintendent) for 20 years, and we’ve been working on this for at least eight years.”

    The ultimate goal, Pearson said, is to have a boating access site, similar in scope to the regional facility in Emerald Isle, camping, trails and much more on what some have called the most beautiful undeveloped property left along the state’s coastline. In addition, great swaths of the land should remain undisturbed, and some sections might be restored to its previous natural state.

    “Keep in mind that the things I’ve mentioned are just a vision, and we have to go through a master planning process, of course, but once we get all this done, it will be great for Swansboro and for Onslow County,” Pearson said. “There are no doubt many things that can be done that no one has even thought of yet.”

    Pearson also believes that existing camps on the land – used for a time by 4H- can be renovated and used.

    Carol Tingley, acting director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation, said Thursday that the state is "very pleased that the settlement has been signed and look forward to eventually taking title" to the property.

    "We still have to finishing raising the money, and there are some other things that must be done, but this was a major milestone," she added. "The money won't be awarded all at one time, but we fully expect to be able to put it all together."

     l The park is currently made of four different areas: the 30-acre mainland, which is the hub and home of the visitors’ center and ferry dock; Bear Island, an 892-acre largely unspoiled barrier island with a ferry landing, an ocean beach with lifeguards and a restroom and concession facility; Huggins Island, a 225-acre maritime island, home to a historic Civil War battery, at the mouth of the White Oak River in Bogue Inlet; and 23-acre Jones Island, seven miles northeast of Bear Island at the mouth of White Oak.

    The acquisition would represent about a 25 percent increase in the total size of the park. More importantly, though, it represents close to a 1,000 percent increase on the mainland; the 320-acre combined and very accessible site would put it roughly on a par with the 400-plus acres at Fort Macon State Park east of Atlantic Beach and at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. Each of those parks draws more than one million visitors per year; Hammocks Beach drew 135,701 in 2013, according to Superintendent Paul Donnelly. Pearson said state experts estimate that each park visitor spends an average of $25 per day, so the potential economic benefits to the area are tremendous.

    And Pearson noted that the environmental benefits are also potentially far-reaching. If the land stayed in private hands, there eventually would be tremendous pressure for residential and/or commercial development, and at the very least there would likely be harvesting of the trees for timber. And the land serves not only as habitat, but also as a buffer area to reduce the pollutants that entire the White Oak River watershed.

    The modern history of the land goes back to the early 1900s, when Dr. William Sharpe, a New Yorker, bought 4,600 acres along Queens Creek near Swansboro and hired John L. Hurst, son of a slave, to manage it. Sharpe planned to give the property to the Hurst family when he died, but the family eventually convinced Sharpe to donate it to a black teachers’ group.

    The teachers association in the 1950s established the Hammocks Beach Corp. to manage the property in trust for its members. The property deed stated that if it couldn’t manage the property properly, the corporation could transfer the land to the N.C. Board of Education, but that if the board turned it down, it would go to the Hurst and Sharpe families.

    The recent legal history began in 2006, when the Hurst heirs, Harriet Hurst Turner and John W. Hurst, sued the corporation, claiming it had failed to properly administer the trust, and sought the return of the 289 acres to the family.

    In October 2010, a judge in Wake County Superior Court removed the corporation as trustee. But in early January 2011, the same court asked the state education board if it wanted the land. Although it had previously rejected the trusteeship twice, the board then said it would accept it, a move that could have cleared the way for the land to become part of the state park.

    However, Harriet Hurst Turner and John H. Hurst appealed, and the state Court of Appeals placed a temporary stay on the lower court’s ruling, citing the board of education’s previous decisions not to accept the property.

    Because the appeals court ruling was unanimous, there was no automatic right of review by the N.C. Supreme Court. However, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, on behalf of the education board, filed a petition for that review, and the Supreme Court accepted it before approving the motion to dismiss on Wednesday.

    Since it would involve the acquisition of property for a state park, the settlement will still have to be approved by the N.C. Council of State, which includes Gov. Pat McCrory and his top department heads.

    State Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Republican majority leader and a big supporter of the park, told the newspaper last month that he believes the general framework would win Council of State approval if it comes to that.

    Brown said that he tried to get some money for the acquisition put into a line item in the state budget. “I always try,” he said. “But with money so tight this year, there just wasn’t any way. What I think we can do is use some money that will be available in the state conservation trust funds and combine it with some from other sources.”

    Among the other sources, Brown said, are the Marine Corps, the N.C. Conservation Trust and local governments, including Onslow County. The Corps has a fund to buy property to prevent development from encroaching on its base at Camp LeJeune or in airspace it uses for training.

    Bill Holman, North Carolina State Director for The Conservation Fund said his organization has been involved in discussions and is ready to help fund the purchase if the state does not have the full amount of money readily available. The trust would hold the property for addition to the park.

    The case is Harriet Hurst Turner and John Henry Hurst v. The Hammocks Beach Corporation Inc., Nancy  Sharpe Caird, Seth  Dickman Sharpe, Swan  Spear Sharpe, William  August Sharpe, North  Carolina State Board of  Education and N.C. Attorney General Roy A.  Cooper III.

  • Mon, July 15, 2013 5:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    On July 9th Jeremy and I had a very interesting experience. It was our night to be working and at around 9:30 we had our first turtle. This in itself was completely unexpected because we had not had a turtle before 10:30 yet. As we came up on her tracks we cut off the car and waited to see if she would nest. After about 10 minutes of her digging in one spot she moved to a new one. Then she did it again. and again. With a total of four times! She would start digging and then would stop and move to a new spot. We couldn’t tell why she continued doing this because we were some distance away. Eventually she started working her way back to the water, seemingly tired of digging, to hopefully lay somewhere else.

    Jeremy and I quickly ran over to her and got some quick measurements along with tagging her. We were hoping that she would come back sooner or later because we assumed she just wasn’t ready to lay her eggs. We would be able to tell if it was the same turtle because of the tags we put on her. After this we continued our patrol and around 11:00 she came back! The odd thing was that she started to do the same thing. This time I went up to go check her out and on her second try at digging a hole I was examining her and I noticed she only had one back flipper! I had never seen something like that before, but Jeremy had seen one like her on a similar internship the previous summer.

    Since she was unable to dig the hole herself, which we assumed from watching her try over and over again, I got down on my knees and started helping her whenever she started digging with the missing flipper. It was amazing to see how engrained the methods of nesting were in her head. She would use her right flipper, which was the one still there, and dig. Then she would switch and start to move the little nub of a flipper she still had and acted like she was digging. She honestly thought it was there. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing because of how she would stretch it out and after pretend to flip sand away with it. After a while of me digging though she must have caught on that the hole was being dug by something because she would reach with her right flipper and “pretend” to dig with that one as well. It was hilarious to see her do this because I wouldn’t have ever expected her to just let me do all the work. I didn’t mind because I was having a blast just looking at her.

    From the look of the wound it was healed completely and nicely as well! Her shell was really messed up also so it could have been a boat or a shark that hurt her. I’m just glad she wasn’t still bleeding. I would have been able to handle it better than the dissections because I wouldn’t be looking at internal organs, but still, it wouldn’t have been fun.

    After her hole was dug she laid her eggs and was able to cover them easily as well. After this large fiasco that lasted over an hour we continued our patrol and had two more turtle nests last night! The largest amount we’ve had in one night all summer! Both of them had four flippers too! It was a very busy night of tagging, measuring, and covering nests with cages.

  • Sun, July 07, 2013 4:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
  • Sun, July 07, 2013 11:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    There are very few times each summer that the ranger staff or interns that work on Bear Island have to relocate a turtle nest. Per the guidelines set forth by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, there are only three reasons why volunteers should move a nest. They are:
    • The nest is below the average high tide line where regular inundation will result in embryonic mortality.
    • The nest is laid in an area known to be susceptible to erosion.
    • The nest is laid under a sloughing escarpment and is subject to being buried too deeply.

    Luckily for the sea turtles that nest on Bear Island, there are currently no areas of the island that are susceptible to erosion or have large escarpments, so the only time the staff would need to relocate a nest is if it is below the high tide line. So far this summer only one nest (nest #9, laid on July 5th) has required relocation. The relocation process is long and tedious. Excavation of the nest is done by hand. Extreme care must be taken to not rotate the eggs in any direction to avoid detaching the embryo from the egg wall. The eggs are removed from the original nest one-by-one and placed into rigid buckets. After the nest cavity is empty it is then measured (depth and width) and a new nest cavity (above the high tide line!) is created with those measurements. The eggs are then carefully placed into their new home.

    Relocating the nest is not a decision that is made lightly. Interns and park rangers consult, usually in the middle of the night, about what would be best for the nest. On Bear Island, staff do their best to try to keep things as natural as possible. In the case of nest #9, the nest was laid wellbelow the high tide line and had already been washed over once before staff were able to move it. Hopefully this will be the one and only nest that needs to be relocated this summer!

  • Wed, July 03, 2013 10:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The first day most of us arrived was a Saturday in May. We were all tired from driving. But before I arrived David, Jeremy and some of the park rangers found a turtle that was sick and dying. It had come onto Bear Island and died shortly after. It was a sad finding, but rewarding for us because we had an actual specimen to learn from for our training.

    The day of training we dissected her and man was it an experience! Up until that point the largest thing I had dissected was a fetal pig and even then I couldn’t stand the smell! But having to deal with the smell of a sea turtle was completely different. I hate dissections because it twists my stomach into a knot and it’s hard for me to even look inside. While I was standing off to the side for most of the dissection, David, Jeremy, and Danica were all into the turtle taking pictures and making sure they didn’t miss a thing. I figured they would much rather look at a turtle than my breakfast so I watched from a couple feet away. Every once in a while I went over to poke at something to make it look like I was doing okay a to let everyone know I was paying attention.

    We learned during the dissection that it was a female and while they cut open her intestines we found worms. We did not determine if she got these parasites before she was sick, which could have played a role in her illness, or if she got them afterwards from having a low immune system. Either way, we all learned a lot that day about turtle anatomy.

    I learned that Sea Turtles can have a syndrome called debilitated turtle syndrome, which is when they accumulate too many barnacles and/or fungus on their bodies. For a turtle to have some, this is healthy and good for them, but if a turtle has debilitated turtle syndrome it can weigh them down and create a problem while they are swimming and trying to catch food. This turtle, along with the worms, had this syndrome and it could have played a role in its death.

    As we looked into her I also learned about how a Loggerhead’s esophagus has filters called papillae. Which are able to filter things out that they don’t/can’t digest. This was especially interesting because I had never seen something so amazing in another animal. Most of what I’ve seen in other animals I had recognized from my own species, but this was very different from anything I had seen before!

    Overall, training was a great day! As we dissected her we were able to learn about nesting, feeding habits, and their reproduction habits. Below I’ve put some links for web pages about Sea Turtles. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

    National Geographic with Sea Turtles:

    Kids National Geographic Sea Turtle Page:

    NOAA Loggerhead Sea Turtle Page:


  • Sat, June 29, 2013 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My name is Danica and I am one of the four interns on Bear Island that are helping with the study on loggerhead sea turtles.  I am now a Sophomore at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL (right on the boarder of Iowa).  I am majoring in Biology, Pre-Med, and Spanish with minors in Chemistary and Latin American Studies.  I have two career paths for after I graduate, either graduate school for Medicine or Marine Biology.  I have always been in love with marine life, and finally being able to study it is a dream come true.  

    I performed my first turtle dissection on May 20th. It was one of the coolest, yet grossest things I have done so far.  The turtle we dissected was found on the beach prior to my arrival and was frozen until the start of the intern training.  Using this turtle we learned how and where to tag the nesting females as well as what the varying parts of its entrails looked like.  If you want to see pictures of the dissection just send me an email,, and I will send them to you!

    Our patrol was not an exciting one due to the fact that the water is still to cold for the turtles.  We did however spot our first one that was swimming around in the marshes, so it should not be long for them to start nesting!

    Our protocol is as follows:

    When a turtle comes up onto the beach, we will measure it notch to notch, notch to longest tip, and at its longest width. We will be measuring both the straight and curved lengths.  After doing so, we will check for tags using a PIT scanner and looking for metal rear and front flipper tags (Most turtles that come here may  not have tags on them unless previous tagged by us at early stages of the summer).  After scanning, we must inject PIT tags into the front left flipper in the triceps area of the turtles flipper so the PIT tags do not migrate throughout the flipper.  We must also apply a metal  tag to both front flippers.  Photo tags are taken so we can display the turtles to the rest of the park and show the various campers on the island what a loggerhead turtle looks like since most have never seen one before.  When they are finished laying their eggs, we must make the decision to relocate the nest or not.  We will not typically do this unless it is to close to the high tide line where the eggs have the potential to get washed away.  If this is the case, we will dig a new hole closer to the dune line on the island and move each egg one by one so we do not tear the embryo from the shell.  A metal cage is placed over the nest and buried 2 inches down to protect the eggs from hungry raccoon’s  foxes, and larger ghost crabs.  For a DNA test being performed on the egg shells, we must take one egg from each nest, empty its contents away from the nest, and save the shell.  This project is helping researchers better track where the mother turtles are nesting.  Sometime we will have turtles do a false crawl where they will come up onto varying points on the beach and not lay a nest.  When this happens the protocol is the same, minus what we would have to do for a nest.  Every time we see a turtle we must take its latitude and longitude coordinates for the state.

    I work a minimum of 4 nights a week from 9 PM – 6 AM.  We scan the beach before the sun goes down to ensure that there is nothing dangerous in the way of our patrol, to make sure nests that are already there have not been subject to predators or vandalism, and to see if the odd turtle came onto the beach while we were not patrolling.  Once we start patrolling we drive the length of the beach (about 4 miles) every 30 minutes because that is how long it typically takes turtles to nest.  There will be 2-3 people working each night.

    If you are ever on Bear Island and would like to know more about the turtles, please come find us!

  • Fri, June 21, 2013 4:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
  • Mon, June 17, 2013 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My name is Caleb and I am one of the sea turtle interns for the summer. I’m a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and this is my first internship. I’m very excited to not only have this time to gain experience, but to also learn more about the things I love so much!

    I arrived May 17th and a couple days later went through training. I learned quite a bit about sea turtle anatomy and behavior, as well as what to expect during my stay at Hammocks Beach State Park.

    During the first week or so it was a lot of fun changing my schedule to become nocturnal and experience the beach in a new form that I had never seen before. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the beach under the moon is a very different beach than the one under the sun. There are animals that go unseen during the day because they much prefer the dim light of the stars and the moon. Sea turtles, I discovered, are one of these animals. They rarely come on land, but if they do you can bet it is most likely to be during the night and its a female looking to nest.

    The other interns and I drive up and down the beach each night looking for turtle tracks coming up out of the water For the first three weeks we would jump and slam on the brakes for any dune that just happened to have resemblance to a turtle or if we “thought” we saw something coming out of the ocean that looked like turtle tracks. It was quite amusing and after a couple of days of this we also started playing jokes on one another by grabbing the driver by the shoulder and shouting about how we had seen a turtle swimming in the water. It was quite amusing for joker to watch the driver jump on the brakes and yell “WHERE!”, while the passenger laughed uproariously. These moments in particular I know I will look back on and smile.

    It was the third of June when we finally had a false crawl. This is when a nesting turtle comes up onto the shore and because the dunes are too high, or animals/people may have scared her, or she simply doesn’t think that strip of beach is right for her babies to hatch on, she crawls back into the ocean and searches for something better suited for her and her eggs. Danica and I were on patrol that night and it was very amusing to see her reaction. She slammed on the brakes screaming “WHAT IS THAT!” while jumping out of the car so fast I was still in a daze as to what was going on. We discovered quite quickly that what was left was just the turtle’s tracks. We were both quickly filled with disappointment, but also filled us with hope that the turtles were finally making their way in to nest.

    Since the we have had nine false crawls and three turtles that actually nested. It’s been quite an experience watching the turtles dig their hole, lay their eggs, cover them, and slowly make their way back out into the ocean. As it is to be expected, they’re quite tired when they’re done laying over 100 eggs. They’re magnificent creatures and some of them even look like the ocean as they come in carrying barnacles on their backs and bio-luminescent plankton that is stuck to their shells. The summer has just begun and I know many more turtles are to come. Every new one is unique and a very different experience. I cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer holds.

    - Caleb

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