When do sea turtles hatch and how can I get to see them?

October 2003

10-03

It’s estimated only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survives to maturity.

On average, nests hatch in about 60 days from the date eggs were laid, but hatching can vary from 50 to 90 days.

Female sea turtles crawl onto North Carolina beaches from May through August to dig nests and lay eggs. Some females have been known to nest as late as September and early October.

It is in the best interest of the turtles to keep nests as private as possible to allow the hatchlings to reach the ocean with a minimum of distractions. During nesting season, turtle volunteers, working under special permits, protect sea turtle nests. Once a nest is located and marked, volunteers patrol the area until the nest hatches. On beaches where artificial lighting or human interaction is a problem, volunteers “sit” the nest until hatchlings emerge. The only way to view a hatching nest is to come upon it accidentally or become a sea turtle volunteer.

Of the five sea turtle species that travel the U.S. waters of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the loggerhead is the most common. It is also the species that most frequently nests on North Carolina beaches. Adult loggerheads weigh between 200 and 300 pounds and reach sexual maturity between 20-30 years of age. Females lay three to five nests every two to four years. Each nest contains 100 to 125 ping-pong size eggs. Biologists theorize sea turtles lay a large number of eggs to account for natural impacts such as storms and predators.

Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, international agreement and many state laws. Unauthorized taking of or harassment of sea turtles dead or alive, or taking eggs or disturbing nests, is prohibited and can carry heavy fines.