Sea turtle in Outer Banks

A loggerhead sea turtle returns to the ocean after getting disoriented and crossing N.C. 12 Thursday. Park rangers and others lifted her back to the beach. 

BUXTON, N.C.

Sea turtle nest numbers at Cape Hatteras National Seashore reached a new high this week.

The nest count climbed to 330 as of Tuesday on the park's 67 miles of beaches, according to a count tabulated daily on a state wildlife website. The total is five above the record set in 2016 with more nests expected in the coming days.

All but 12 are from the threatened loggerhead species. Green turtles have laid 11 nests and one was made by a Kemp's Ridley.

Nests at the park have been monitored since 1987, according to the park's website. Only 11 nests were found the first year. Between 2000 and 2007, sea turtle nest numbers averaged 77 a year, according to the website. Numbers peaked in 2010 at 153 and then hit records in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and now this year.

Sea turtle protections over decades may account for the recent successes, said Tracy Ziegler, chief of resource management and science for the National Park Service in eastern North Carolina. Females mature to lay eggs in 25 to 30 years, she said.

"We might be seeing the return of more females," Ziegler said.

A female loggerhead turtle, weighing some 300 pounds, crawls from the ocean to a beach and scrapes out a hole with her rear flippers to make her nest. She typically lays about 100 eggs that will incubate between 50 and 60 days. They are known to return to the same beach for generations.

This season's loggerhead nest totals have set records in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, Ziegler said.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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