The Bald Head Island Conservancy was founded in 1983. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation issues. It supports scientific research that benefits coastal communities. These studies provide many recreational and educational advantages to locals. The organization collaborates with other organizations with similar interests. The Bald Head Island Conservancy fights for the sustainability of barrier islands. This is achieved by environmental research and stewardship.
It is located in the Smith Island Complex. The area is surrounded by the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a unique region that includes;
· Bald Head
· Middle Island
· Bluff Island
The organization is led by a board of directors. This board is made up of members of the community. They are able to guide and advise the organization on how best to help their communities. The 2021 Board of Directors includes;
1. Katie Chatas - President
2. John Cathcart - Vice President
3. Slaughter Fitz-Hugh III - Treasurer
4. Hollie Hart - Secretary
5. Lynn Barnard - SILT President
6. Jay Adams
7. Ginger Aydogdu
8. Kim Blackwell
9. Nancy Easterling
10. Hilary Gerhardt
11. Trish Healy
12. Julie Keenan
13. John Kinney
14. John May
15. Dylan McNamara
16. Donna Patterson
17. Rich Tarplin
18. Shannon Thatcher
19. Randall Tuttle
Protection of sea turtles started in 1980. The conservancy has organized the Sea Turtle Protection Program since it was established. The program was supported by;
· The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
· The National Marine Fisheries Service
The National Marine Fisheries Service designated Bald Head Island as an “index beach”. This gave national recognition to the sea turtle nesting activity. The program aims at identifying every nesting turtle on the beaches. This is done by conducting saturation tagging to intercept the turtles. The project is done by 6 interns. They conduct patrols of the beach every night. This is between 9pm and 6 am. When they spot a turtle, their work involves;
· Applying PIT and flipper tags
· Acquiring DNA samples
· Taking straight and curved carapace measurements
· Logging information in the ongoing database
When nesting, the female sea turtle is in a trance-like state. She lays about 120 eggs in each nest. She can lay up to 6 nests in a good summer. After that, she disappeared into the sea for 2-4 summers. After laying her eggs, the turtle throws sand around the nest. This is an attempt to camouflage her nest. She then goes back into the water.
NMFS interns find the nests and build a protective cage around it. This helps to protect the eggs from predators. The region is filled with foxes and coyotes who prey on the eggs. The interns also move some nests that are in areas prone to flooding or erosion. The eggs are transported carefully to safer areas on the beach.
The incubation period for the eggs is between 45 and 70 days. The eggs are watched for signs of predation and hatching. The nest often hatches at the same time. This is known as a boil. When hatched, the hatchlings climb over each other and scramble to the water.
Three days after the eggs hatch, the interns carry out nest excavations. They take an inventory and release any stragglers from the egg chamber. The inventory helps to determine the success rate of the mother. Interns count the number of empty eggshells to compare with unhatched ones. Nest excavations are open to the public. The time and location of where they happen are posted on the BHIC website.
There are two species of sea turtles found at Bald Head Island Conservancy. These are;
· Caretta caretta: These are loggerhead sea turtles.
· Chelonia mydas: These are green sea turtles.
The conservancy has also documented other sea turtle species, including;
· A leatherback nest in 2010
· A Kemp’s Ridley nest in 2020
Worldwide, sea turtle species are seven in total. All of them face the danger of extinction. They are either endangered or critically threatened. This is why protecting the nesting mothers is significant.
Sea turtles are an endangered species. There are very few numbers in existence. This means that they need to be cared for to increase their population. In addition to being endangered, sea turtle species face the following problems;
1. Habitat destruction
2. Entanglement in fishing gear
3. Climate change
The Bald Head Island Conservancy relies on the help of the community to function. There are many ways in which one can get involved with the conservancy and its efforts. These include;
1. Donate – You can help by giving any amount of money you can. Any amount is acceptable. The conservancy encourages donation as the money helps to run affairs.
2. Adopt – adopting a sea turtle allows you access to information about that turtle. You will be involved in the nest excavation process.
3. Next Generation – The Next Generation Club fosters a community of young conservationists. They commit to achieving the mission and vision of the conservancy.
4. Legacy Foundation – This involves a planned gift. This is when one plans to include the Bald Head Island Conservancy in their estate planning. The conservancy is added to the will or trust of the donor.
5. Volunteer – The conservancy is always seeking motivated individuals to become volunteers. They must be friendly and reliable. You must be at least 13 years old to volunteer
6. Shop Turtle Central Online – the gift shop has personalized and branded items for all ages.
The Bald Head Island Conservancy focuses on preserving an endangered species. The work done at the conservancy is vital to the survival of the turtle species. It allows future generations to be able to enjoy wonders that they may otherwise miss. It helps to preserve history. The BHIC discovers, learns, conserves and preserves the environment that houses sea turtles. They also create environmentally friendly products and gifts. These can be taken as educational materials and souvenirs.