World Oceans Day 2020

June 8, 2020

Happy World Oceans Day 2020!

World Oceans Day is an annual recognition that takes place every June. We are so fortunate to live on this beautiful blue planet. Did you know that the ocean comprises 70% of the Earth’s surface? That’s a pretty big deal! On the Outer Banks we are surrounded by big blue and simply could not love our ocean more! World Oceans Day is a day to celebrate the beauty of our salty seas, as well as raise awareness for protecting her; so future generations can enjoy her and all of her glory. Recent World Oceans Days have focused on the 30 x 30 initiative – the global drive to protect at least 30% of land & ocean by the year 2030.  In honor of World Oceans Day, we’d like to highlight some of the local marine life that calls the OBX home.

HORSESHOE CRABS. Contrary to their name, horseshoe crabs aren’t actually crabs at all. Believe it or not, they’re closer relatives to spiders than they are to crabs – who knew!  

Considered to be “living fossils”, they have remained on unchanged for over 445 million years. They’ve been on earth well before dinosaurs, and amazingly enough, are still found on our beaches today!

These critters are completely harmless, and rather, are used to help humans. They are extremely important in the biomedical industry due to their unique copper-based blood. As such, horseshoe crabs are used medicinally.

While their tail may look intimidating, they are not used to inflict injury, and rather just a tool to help them flip back to being right side up. If you ever encounter a horseshoe crab, please do not pick up by the tail.

Horseshoe crab population is on the decline, so it’s important we protect these ancient relics.

TURTLES. Due to our proximity to the Gulf Stream, the OBX is a hub for turtles! We’re eager to put our terrapin friends in the spotlight. Here are some fun facts about turtles:

  • Sea turtles will nest in the same location that they were born, and will return for subsequent nesting. This means that generations of sea turtles have been born in the same place.
  • The temperature of the environment will determine the turtle’s sex. Warmer temperatures produce females and colder temperatures produce males. So interesting!

Chances are, if you’re driving along our local residential areas in the spring and summertime, you may have to stop and allow a turtle/tortoise to cross over; or you may be on the beach and see a designated “Sea Turtle Nesting” area. 

What can we do in these situations to help and ensure their safety?

If you see a turtle crossing the road, allow it to cross over on its own.  Stop your car and put on 4-way flashers to alert other motorists. If you feel it’s necessary to assist, ensure your safety first before taking any action. If safe to assist, always send a turtle off in the direction it was headed. Never turn the turtle around. Assume the “hamburger grab”, ensuring the underside is within your grip. Do not just grab it by the top, or by the tail, as this can dislocate bones.

Tips to keep Sea Turtles Safe:

  • Have a fun day on the beach, digging holes and building towering sandcastles, but please ensure your area is leveled-out when you leave for the day. Not doing so may throw off nesting and the turtles and hatchlings may fall into any deep holes.
  • Turn off your lights at night. Hatchlings follow light sources. Once they’ve hatched, they need to immediately make their way into the water. If there is light pollution, they will instinctually go towards the light, rather than towards the sea.
  • If you see a designated sea turtle nesting site, maintain a respectable distance, and keep pets leashed.

Refrain from releasing balloons and paper lanterns into the sky. Even the biodegradable ones take time to break down, which can still trap a turtle. Reducing single use plastic consumption can also help protect our terrapin friends. They love munching on jellyfish. Plastics floating in the water resemble their favorite food.

RAYS. Graceful in their maneuvers, seemingly “flying” through the water, stingrays are found in our Atlantic waters. They are not something to be feared, so long as one proceeds into their home mindfully. Stingrays don’t want to hurt anyone, but since they bury themselves on the ocean’s sandy bottom, they may accidentally get stepped on. Because humans are far larger than the rays, they react defensively in order to protect themselves. 

If one simply does the “stingray shuffle”, there shouldn’t be an unfavorable interaction. By sliding your feet across the ocean floor, rather than taking steps, the stingray (and nearby crabs) will feel those vibrations in the sand, and move out of the way. Shuffle your feet; don’t get stung!

 If one is struck by a ray’s barb, the best thing to do it to submerge the wound in as hot of water as the individual can withstand. The heat neutralizes the toxin and eases pain.

Stingrays are important to our oceanic ecosystem and, much like the horseshoe crab, are considered to be “living dinosaurs”. Fossils of these rays have been found dating back as far as the Jurassic era.

SEALS. Not a common occurrence for tourist to see seals on the beaches in the summer, due to their migration pattern, but they are a part of our ecosystem! The time to see seals on the Outer Banks is in the wintertime. The local harbor seals have adopted the nickname “Christmas Seals” due to the time of year that they visit us.

Pups will swim ashore to rest, relax, and soak up some sunshine. It is always an amazing experience to be apart of! The Marine Mammal Stranding Network is on call for wildlife that has come ashore. When someone encounters a beached pup, they are asked to call the MMSN (252-455-9654) and they will dispatch a member to watch over the sweet lil’ pup.

If you see a seal on our beaches, please remain at least 150ft. away, and secure pets on a leash.

PIPING PLOVER. These highly endangered shorebirds can be found along the east coast and call our beaches home. If you’ve been on Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it is likely that you may have encountered portions of the beach closed off due to bird nesting. This is a very important practice that biologists take very seriously in order to preserve the species. 

Piping Plovers nest along the eastern seaboard. They nest along the Outer Banks,as far south as Hatteras, but they actually prefer nesting on beaches like those found in New England. This is because they prefer rockier beaches for nesting, especially where there are tidal pools, which the chicks eat out of.

While these birds are endangered, their nesting numbers have been on the rise. This increase in nesting is attributed to protections implemented especially during their nesting season.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided these guidelines to help protect endangered shorebird nests (which parallels sea turtle protections)

  • Walk closer to water than the dunes – near the dunes is where wildlife typically nests
  • Maintain a respectable distance from the birds
  • Keep dogs leashed
  • Do not feed animals near the beach and remove all food scraps, as that will attract predators.

PORPOISE/DOLPHIN. A crowd-pleaser, for sure! Everyone loves to see these beauties swim and surf on by. Dolphins are highly intelligent and social mammals. Their brains are more complex than the human brain, using echolocation, to “see” what lies ahead and to communicate with their fellow pod pals. There is a large variety of porpoise. We can commonly see the Bottlenose on the OBX. Not exclusive to the ocean, one can also find dolphin in the sound.

How can we ensure the safety of dolphin? 
Conscious consumption of seafood, not feeding them when we see them in the wild, reducing use of plastics, and never releasing balloons into the sky –which inevitably end up in the ocean.

WHALES. The Carolina coast has a decent share of migratory whales. These mammals pass through our neck of the woods in the off-season. They spend their winters in tropical waters and migrate to North Atlantic for the summer. In December – January, one may see migratory whales headed south to the warmer waters, where they will give birth to their calves. Then again, they may be spotted in March – April as they’re headed back north for the summer. 

A few of the common whales to spot here include: humpbacks, fin whales, and North Atlantic right whales. 

In the winter, it may be a bit difficult to spot them as they’re migrating off shore, because it coincides with the time of year we typically see rough surf and, potentially, nor’easters. On a calm day, one may very well see a whale’s fluke and see them blow water out of their blowhole, as they take a breath of air. Just like dolphins, these marine mammals must surface to breathe. Keep an eye out for spewing water, and a posse of birds overhead. Birds like to follow the whales as they typically find food “hot spots”.

Whale sighting in Kill Devil Hills

If you’d like to see these beautiful creatures first hand, Southern Shores Realty is here for you to house your next beach getaway! Visit us on the web or call us locally at 252-261-2000.

Posted on June 8, 2020 by Kelly Knutson.