Holden Beach Sea Turtles – Everything You Need to Know [2021 Update]

sea turtle about to enter the Atlantic Ocean for the first time at Holden Beach

Each summer, hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the shores of Holden Beach for rest, relaxation, and fun in the sun. But about a month before the tourists start arriving from across the Holden Beach Bridge, another guest checks-in for their stay—mother loggerhead sea turtles ready to lay their eggs along the beach strand.

Holden Beach Sea Turtle Fast Facts:

Common Name: Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Caretta caretta
Nesting Season: May-October
Diet: Shellfish, crabs, clams, mussels, shrimp, sponges, jellyfish, seaweed, algae
Size (adult): 30-42 inches long
Weight (adult): 155-375 lbs.
Avg. Life Span: 50+ years

When Will the Sea Turtles Come Back in 2021?

The sea turtles will return to Holden Beach at the start of nesting season, which begins as early as May 01, 2021. When exactly they’ll make their first appearance varies from year to year, but the first 3 weeks of May is typically when they’re spotted.

Holden Beach sea turtle fun fact: when sea turtles hatch, it’s called a boil! It got the name because the newborn sea turtles crawl out of the sand and head to the water very quickly and in large groups – almost like the sand is boiling!

Sea Turtle Nests on Holden Beach

Sea turtle returning to sea after spending some time on shore.
Sea turtle returning to sea after spending some time on shore.

The average day in the life of a sea turtle consists of feeding, frolicing, and resting in the water. But from May to October, mother sea turtles will hit the beach to lay their eggs—this is known as the sea turtle nesting season. Male sea turtles will never leave the water, but female loggerheads come to shore once every few years to nest and lay their eggs. Each female will lay anywhere from two to seven nests per season, and lay about 120 eggs per nest.

After the eggs are laid, the mama sea turtle never returns to the nest. Instead, she will visit different parts of the beach to lay new nests and eggs, taking about 2 weeks off to rest between each nest. Once the nesting season is over, mama sea turtles typically take anywhere from two to three years off to rest and recharge before laying any more eggs. All in all, sea turtles lay anywhere from 1,900 to 2,300 eggs in a lifetime.

When Do Sea Turtles Arrive in Holden Beach?

Sea turtle nesting season on Holden Beach takes place from May 1 to October 31.

Each May, loggerhead sea turtles make their way to the shores of Holden Beach and North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands for the start of sea turtle nesting season. Their nesting season is from May through October in North and South Carolina, but varies slightly in other regions. If you haven’t experienced it first hand, it’s hard to imagine why sea turtle nesting is such a big deal. But witnessing the yearly pilgrimage of hatchlings heading out to sea for the first time is truly marvelous. See for yourself by booking a stay in one of our Holden Beach rentals!

Holden Beach Turtle Watch Program

Volunteers known as the Holden Beach Turtle Watch, or Turtle Patrol, begin scouring the beaches for sea turtle nests as early as May 1st. They ride ATVs up and down the nine mile beach strand, looking for turtle tracks, disturbed sand, or other signs of sea turtle nesting. Turtles are not particularly stealthy creatures, and can be easy to track if you know what you’re looking for. Pay close attention for 2 sets of small tracks running towards Holden Beach, and back towards the Atlantic Ocean, as this is a telltale sign of a mama sea turtle coming ashore for nesting season.

Sea Turtle eggs covered in sand on Holden Beach
Sea Turtle eggs covered in sand on Holden Beach

When the Turtle Patrol finally comes across a sea turtle crawl, they then set out to find the eggs and nest. If the nest is in a safe location, it is marked with stakes, ribbon, and a warning sign to keep curious beachgoers from getting too close. If the nest is in an unsafe location, the Turtle Patrol will carefully move it to a safer area. Once the nests are secure and marked, they will be monitored for the next 50-70 days as the eggs incubate and the nest hatches.

Holden Beach Turtle Talk

The Turtle Patrol hosts weekly educational sessions every Wednesday in June, July, and August at 7 p.m. at Holden Beach Town Hall. Turtle Talk sessions touch on everything related to sea turtles and include updates on the Turtle Watch Program and their findings. Guests of all ages are encouraged to attend Turtle Talks, which are free of admission charge. Doors open at 6:30, so be sure to get there early if you want a guaranteed seat.

How You Can Help Protect Our Sea Turtles

How we protect the sea turtle nests on Holden Beach.

The City of Holden Beach takes protecting out loggerhead sea turtles very seriously. If you see any unattended hatchlings, unmarked nests, or injured or stranded turtles, please call 910-754-0766. This number is a 24/7 hotline for the Holden Beach Turtle Watch Stranding Team, so please only call for turtle emergencies. Here are some more safety tips that you should keep in mind:

  • If you happen to see a mother turtle or their nest, please keep your distance from them.
  • If you’re staying in one an oceanfront Holden Beach rental between May 1 and October 31, be sure to turn off your exterior lights and close any interior window blinds at night. The light from these homes can disrupt and confuse the turtles.
  • If you venture out on the beach at night between May 1 and October 31, please turn your flashlights off. Sea turtles rely on moonlight to help guide them back to sea.
  • Make sure that you bring your beach equipment back to your vacation rental after a nice day at the beach. We don’t want the turtles to get caught in them while they are on the sand.
  • Please keep the beaches clean from any trash or plastic on the days you spend at the beach. We like to keep our beaches free of trash to help with the new hatchlings as much as we can.
  • If you happen to see a mother who is in distress, injured or any unmarked nests, please contact the Holden Beach Turtle Patrol emergency number at 910-754-0766 for 24/7 assistance.
A baby sea turtle takes its first few steps from the nest.
A baby sea turtle takes its first few steps from the nest.

While there are many other things you can do to help protect the nests and hatchlings while you are on vacation, these are the most important that we wanted to share with you. If you haven’t made your vacation reservations, check out our Holden Beach vacation rentals today. We hope that you and your family will be able to see a sea turtle on your next vacation to Holden Beach!