Sandy Point closed for nesting season


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Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge has closed for the 2014 leatherback sea turtle nesting season, but those who want to watch the nests hatch can sign up for the National Park's Turtle Watch program.

The refuge is closed during this season every year to protect the nests and hatchlings of the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

Although the turtles begin nesting in late February and March each year, the first hatchlings typically emerge from their nests during April and will continue to emerge through August.

Sandy Point will reopen to beachgoers in September.

Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers youth and community groups the opportunity to visit the beach at night to watch female leatherback sea turtles digging their nests and laying eggs. In the spring, program participants watch hatchlings emerge from their nests and crawl to the sea.

During the hatching process, baby leatherback turtles remain just below the surface of the sand, emerging at dusk and making their way to the water.

"It is impossible for visitors to know where hatchlings are located below the surface of the sand. Unsupervised human activity on the beach can be disastrous. A single footstep over the hatchlings can kill those near the surface," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

In 1977, the federal government began the leatherback sea turtle recovery project at Sandy Point. In the years since, the project has turned into one of the most comprehensive, long-term sea turtle research and recovery efforts in the world.

"During the last three decades, there has been a substantial increase in the number of nesting leatherbacks, from less than 20 individuals in the early years to more than 100 in recent years," according to a statement released by the federal agency.

The Turtle Watch Education Program is offered to youth groups and community groups. The program runs from Tuesdays through Saturdays from April to the end of July. Reservations are only accepted for groups with at least 15 and no more than 30 people. No individual reservations are allowed. Weekend nights are limited to youth groups.

The program is closely supervised and coordinated with research teams, so as not to disturb the turtles, according to the release.

For more information or to make a reservation, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 690-9452 or sandypoint.turtlewatch@gmail.com.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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