Sea turtles get help as NC beach recovers from hurricane damage

Sea turtles get help as NC beach recovers from hurricane damage

OAK ISLAND, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - Oak Island, south of Wilmington, has won $8 million in state and federal disaster aid to restore sea turtle habitat damaged by Hurricane Matthew last year.

A beach renourishment project at Oak Island following Hurricane Floyd in 1999 included the first sea turtle habitat restoration project of its kind. The project created more beach on which endangered turtles could lay eggs and helped the town restore part of its storm-damaged beach.

The town has maintained an active turtle program since that time, with employees and volunteers monitoring sea turtle nests and reporting nest activity data.

Oak Island is among the state's most prolific sea turtle nesting sites, according to North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission data, with 90 of the 1,222 nests reported this year. The sprawling Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout national seashores account for nearly half of all nests.

Nearly all turtles nesting on North Carolina beaches are loggerheads, which can reach 3 feet in length and weigh 250 pounds. Loggerheads are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The newly-announced federal money will restore the same area, and comes as Oak Island discusses financing for renourishment of its entire 9-mile strand.

The announcement followed a federal decision to spend $5.6 million to rebuild emergency dunes and the town's agreement to spend up to $3 million from its accommodations tax to pump sand on its beach from the upcoming dredging of the Wilmington Harbor shipping channel, the State Port Pilot reported.

Oak Island Mayor Cin Brochure told TV station WWAY in Wilmington that the grant is big news for the island.

"It's huge in our view for several reasons," Brochure said. "First of all, we need to protect the sea turtles and a lot of that blew away in Matthew. And we also, it helps put back some of the sand that we lost during Matthew. So, it's pretty much one of the biggest things that have happened to Oak Island in a while on a positive note."