The US Navy is actively working to preserve endangered sea turtles along Virginia's beaches, particularly at Dam Neck Beach, which is a well-maintained, four-mile stretch overseen by Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana.
Naturalized dunes line the shoreline, serving as a defense against storm surges and preserving vital wildlife habitats. This beach is a prime nesting spot for sea turtles, being where loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles lay their eggs from mid-May through August.
Executive Officer of NAS Oceana Captain Josh Appezzato and his team of sea turtle patrollers diligently search the beach at sunrise daily.
They look for signs of a "crawl," indicating a turtle has emerged from the ocean and made its way up the beach to create a nest. If a crawl is found, they will notify the natural resource manager and the Virginia Aquarium which will then come down to verify and assess it.
Ensuring the survival of these eggs is an important task. Some eggs are relocated if they are laid in unsuitable locations or too close to the high tide line.
After approximately 60 days, the eggs hatch. The hatchlings' gender is influenced by the temperature, with warmer temperatures tending to produce more females. This location has traditionally been the northern range of the sea turtle population, thereby favoring male hatchlings due to the cooler temperatures.
And, the challenges continue beyond the nest. Hatchlings face natural predators such as coyotes, ghost crabs and various bird species. As these turtles species are endangered, efforts are made to protect the hatchlings as they make their way to the ocean. Barriers are constructed to guide them in the right direction, preventing disorientation caused by light pollution that is common in areas like Virginia Beach.
Officials at NAS Oceana are committed to safeguarding wildlife and preserving natural habitats while maintaining an active military presence.