Lauren the sea turtle generated a lot of excitement over the July 4th holiday as she crawled onto North Topsail Beach to nest and headed back into the ocean fitted with a satellite tag that will help track her movement.
The loggerhead got her name from a visitor from Ohio who was vacationing in the area and spotted the sea turtle on North Topsail Beach on the night of July 3.
Terry Meyer, director of the sea turtle nesting program along Topsail Island, said their volunteers monitor the beach each morning to check for nests laid the night before and also come out if contacted by someone who sees a turtle nesting on the beach at night to be sure the turtle is not hurt and that the nest is not damaged.
Lauren was healthy and offered a glimpse of the female loggerhead in the process of depositing eggs in her nest.
"It's really a perk to be able to go out and see these turtles nest," Meyer said. "It's a great experience and we always appreciate people contacting us when they do see a sea turtle on the beach."
In this case, Meyer said, they were also able to contact Michael Coyne of seaturtle.org to help them locate nesting sea turtles for their satellite tagging effort.
Coyne said Lauren was fitted with a satellite tag to follow her movement as part of a long-term study to monitor the potential impacts of climate change on the movement and behavior of North Carolina loggerhead sea turtles.
The project is being conducted in partnership with Matthew Godfrey, the state sea turtle biologist for North Carolina. They have also tagged turtles from the Bogue Banks area and previously from Bald Head Island with the help of the Bald Head Island Conservancy.
In 2010, a loggerhead named Pati crawled ashore at Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park and was fitted with one of the GPS tracking devices.
The public can follow the movements of Pati and soon Lauren by going to seaturtle.org/tracking/?project_id517.
When Lauren headed back to the water with her transmitter in place, she had laid 92 eggs under a set of stairs leading to a private home. Because of the location and possibility of being flooded by the tide, the nest was moved to a safer spot.
Lauren should return to lay another nest approximately every two weeks for the rest of the summer and with the transmitter now in place, it will be possible to track where she goes from here.
Meyer said those who do see a sea turtle on the beach should be respectful and not disturb the animal. Do not shine flashlights at them or use flash when attempting to take a photo.
Lauren had a carapace length of 97 centimeters and Meyer estimated that she may have weighed in the 300 pound range.
"She was a good size, and they are large sea turtles," she said.
Lauren's visit has generated a lot of interest via social media.
A photo of Lauren the loggerhead was posted on the seaturtle.org Facebook page and as of Friday had generated 973 likes, 1,196 shares and 133 comments.
"This had been quite an interesting case," Coyne said via his email to The Daily News. "I have tagged many sea turtles over the years, and announced several others on Facebook over the last couple of years. But the response to this particular case has been extraordinary. I can't quite explain all of the likes, shares and comments on Facebook about Lauren. I suspect that is has something to do with the photo, but who knows."
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