What You Need to Know About Sea Turtles on the OBX

What You Need to Know About Sea Turtles on the OBX

In honor of World Sea Turtle Day on June 16, we thought we'd put the spotlight on our Outer Banks sea turtles by giving you the rundown on everything you need to know about these awesome and endlessly fascinating aquatic reptiles. 
Ready to learn more? Let's dive in!


Sea Turtle Nesting & Hatching Season on the OBX

Sea turtle nesting and hatching season runs from May through October on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From May 1st to September 1st of each year, a team of volunteers on ATVs patrol fifty miles of beach early each morning (one hundred miles round trip) between South Nags Head and the Virginia border looking for turtle crawls and nests. The patrols are early because sea turtles generally lay their eggs at night and it is easier to identify turtle crawls before visitors arrive on the beach. A crawl is the distinctive track left in the sand by a female turtle coming up on the beach to lay her eggs. The crawls of different species of turtles leave different patterns in the sand. The most common crawl seen on the Outer Banks is the Loggerhead. Some people say they look like tractor tracks.


 Sea Turtle Eggs

Outer Banks Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST)

The Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST) is an all-volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of sea turtles and other protected marine wildlife on the Outer Banks of North Carolina from the Virginia line to south Nags Head. NEST is committed to contributing to the preservation of these species through research and rescue and rehabilitation efforts and to fostering greater understanding and appreciation of these species and their habitat through education and enhanced public awareness. They work in partnership with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. They also work closely with the townships in Dare and Currituck Counties on issues related to sea turtles. 

The NEST program currently assists with: 



  • ATV beach patrols
  • Identification and verification of sea turtle nests
  • Protecting nests and hatchlings
  • Rescue and rehabilitation of stranded sea turtles
  • Education and support of sea turtle research


You can find the current active sea turtle nests for the season here.

Sea Turtle Identification

Five of the seven species of sea turtles visit the Outer Banks beaches. Looking at the sea turtle's shell type and pattern is key to its identification. Scutes are the thickened horny or bony plate on a turtle's shell. If you find five lateral scutes the turtle is either a Loggerhead or a Kemp’s Ridley. Green and Hawksbill turtles have 4 lateral scutes. The only sea turtle found on the Outer Banks that does not have a hard shell with scutes is the Leatherback.

Here are the most commonly seen sea turtles found along the North Carolina coastline:

  • Loggerhead – most common (if you see a turtle on the beach most likely it is a Loggerhead) 
    Has an egg shaped shell.
    Tan/blonde skin hue.
    Has a proportionally large head.
    Stranded turtles tend to be > 55 cm in length.
  • Green – common especially as juveniles 
    Shell varies in browns, and appears marbled with sunburst rays in each scute.
    Scutes do not overlap.
    Underside is creamy white.
    Have flat face and serrated lower jaw.
  • Kemp’s Ridley – common as juveniles 
    Has a round shaped shell (length and width are similar).
    Dull grayish/green/brown shell.
    Stranded turtles tend to be < 55 cm in length.
  • Hawksbill – very rare 
    Shell is yellowish brown with a marbled tortoise-shell pattern.
    Scutes overlap and appear ragged.
    Heads are slender with bird-like beak.
  • Leatherback – uncommon especially nearshore. 
    No scutes.
    Has ridges.


You can find the complete list of Outer Banks sea turtle species and how to identify them here.



How You Can Help Outer Banks Sea Turtles 


  • Call the NEST Hotline. If you see a see a sea turtle call the NEST hotline at 252-441-8622.
  • Keep a safe distance. Keep away from turtles on the beach especially moving turtles that may be looking for a nesting site. To observe, sit quietly away from the turtle.
  • Leave turtle hatchlings on the beach. Call NEST hotline for direction.
  • Do not use artificial light sources. Turn off flashlights, cell phone screens, and all other ocean side lighting during hatching or nesting events.
  • Respect all nest markers. Report disturbances to the NEST hotline.
  • Throw trash away and pick up litter on the sand and in the water. Remove beach litter such as balloons and plastic bags (they may be mistaken for food in the ocean and ingested by sea turtles).
  • Level the sand. Fill in all holes on the beach at the end of the day as they may become traps for female turtles that generally nest on the beach at night.
  • Remove all beach furniture at the end of the day. Don't leave any additional obstacles on the sand for nesting or hatching sea turtles.
  • Keep pets on a leash and away from sea turtles and nests. Dogs are naturally curious and may cause unintended harm to nesting females, sea turtle eggs, nests and hatchlings.




You can also become a sea turtle volunteer. Learn more about it and see if it's something you can do!


For a more global perspective on the threats to sea turtles, what you can do to help and more information on the interesting species, visit the World Wild Life Federation's Sea Turtle page. Share what you learn with your friends and family!


Let's celebrate World Sea Turtle Day on June 16th and every day on the beaches of the Outer Banks. 


What's one thing you can do to help preserve and protect the sea turtles on the Outer Banks? Thank you in advance for anything and everything you do to help!

What You Need to Know About Sea Turtles on the OBX Pin

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