Leatherback Turtle Nests on Cape Hatteras

Leatherback turtles are the largest species of sea turtle. Noelle Rucinski photo, via Seaturtle.org

Whether it's the result of climate change or simply a growing and expanding population of leatherback turtles is for the scientists to determine. For now, just the fact that a leatherback turtle has left a nest of eggs on a beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore is pretty exciting news.

The leatherback is the largest of sea turtle species. And it's also endangered, having been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1970. In recent history, leatherbacks have restricted most of their nesting behavior to tropical beaches. While they have on occasion been spotted along North Carolina beaches, and even as far north as Maryland, biologists say it's pretty unusual to see the turtles nesting in North Carolina.

Indeed, since 1998 there have only been seven confirmed cases of leatherbacks hauling themselves out on North Carolina beaches to lay eggs.

Which makes this Spring's news of a female coming ashore at Cape Hatteras pretty exciting. The turtle's arrival was noted back in April, and soon after park rangers were able to find where she had laid her eggs. Now volunteers are keeping an eye on the site, as they're due to hatch any day.