Copyright 2016 Kathy S. Parker Real Estate
Incorporated in 1963, the Town of Topsail Beach boasts a friendly, family oriented style of beach living. High rise development is not allowed, beautification is encouraged, and conservation of the island environment is a top priority. There are over 1200 homes, but only about 500 year-round residents. The seasonal influx of tourists increases the population to about 7,000, which helps sustain the town's motels, restaurants, gift shops, fishing pier and other businesses.
Topsail Island's name is supposedly derived from its nefarious history, however, this is still debatable among the locals on the Island. According to popular belief, pirates used to hide in the channel between the island and the mainland waiting for merchant ships loaded with goods to pass. The pirates would attack the ships and claim the cargo as their own. Eventually the merchants became aware of the hiding place and began looking for the topsail, which was supposedly the only part of the pirate ship that could be seen by the passing victim. There is a legend that Blackbeard hid his treasure on Topsail Island and that prior to WWII, treasure hunters searched for the hidden gems and gold throughout the islands' maritime forests.
Prior to World War II, Topsail Island was only accessible by boat. Area residents frequently made this short trip and picnicked on the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Local farmers are said to have driven their livestock across the waterways at low tide to graze on wild beach grass. Treasure hunters searched for Blackbeard’s infamous buried treasure throughout the maritime forests which covered the island. During the early 20th century only a few structures, probably less than a dozen, were built along the sound and were used as shelter for fishing trips and summer vacations. At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Army built a large temporary anti-aircraft training base at Holly Ridge known as Camp Davis and took possession of the island. They built the road from Camp Davis to the sound and installed a pontoon bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway where the present swing bridge is located. They also erected training facilities and support buildings in what is now the Surf City business district.
Immediately after the war, the US Navy took possession of the island and began a joint project with Johns Hopkins University known as Operation Bumblebee which was an early guided missile development program. Over 200 missiles were test fired. The missile assembly building is located on the sound at Channel Blvd. and Flake Ave. in the Topsail Beach business district which is now used as a museum and meeting center. The launch pad is used as a patio for the Jolly Roger Motel. Several missile tracking towers still stand along the island. The testing ended in 1948 and the island was returned to the original owners. The roads, bridge, and other infrastructure were left intact and development of the island as a beach resort began in the 1950s. A developer built a brick model home for a planned development in 1952 but in 1954 the storm surge from Hurricane Hazel completely flooded the Topsail Island washing away most structures. The model home survived the storm with minor damage, however the design was abandoned in favor of homes built on pilings. The model home still stands at the corner of Scott Ave. and Anderson boulevard in Topsail Beach.
Sea turtle populations are rapidly decreasing due to the increasing populations of humans and rapid degradation of habitats. Recently, efforts have been made to increase these populations by focusing on one main stage of life, the egg site. These such sites can be found along the coastlines of beaches up into the sand dunes. There are four main species that can be found on and around the island which are loggerhead, green, leatherback and Ridleys Sea Turtle. One species specifically that has been the main theme of protection is the Loggerhead Sea Turtle. This turtle has been the basis for the stationing of the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Topsail Island, North Carolina. Their mission is the protection and watching over of the 26 mile stretch of beach that is Topsail Island. They are committed to the overseeing of hatching of the eggs, caring for sick and injured turtles and protection over the egg site.
Not only do humans disturb the nesting sites of sea turtles, hurricanes play a large role in this as well. Extreme weather will result in the alteration of the nesting site in a negative way by ruining nesting quality through sand erosion. This will cause the turtles to not chose an area that may normally be a safe choice. Also, a hurricane could drown potential eggs reducing the population of the specific turtle that laid the eggs. Occasionally the number of offspring affected will be negligible due to the actual number of eggs being laid at the time of the storm. All five species of sea turtles are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and are under joint jurisdiction under the NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Loggerhead Sea Turtles or known by their scientific name as Caretta rely heavily on a range of environmental cues in order to lay their eggs. These turtles will also only lay their eggs during the night, crawling all the way up to the dunes and occasionally laying none at all, which is referred to as a "false crawl." These times of nesting would often range from mid-May to August when the eggs would then hatch. During the nesting season the turtle will come to nest 3-5 times and will deposit an average of about 120 eggs per nest. These eggs will then incubate in the nest for about 60 days. Upon hatching they will race to the ocean avoiding ghost crabs and birds which will attempt to eat them.
During the first five years of the loggerheads life it travels to the west coast of Africa where it lives in the pelagic environment. Also, about 100 species of plants and animals have been recorded as living on the back of these turtles making them an ecosystem in themselves. Lastly, it takes approximately 25-30 years for a loggerhead turtle to mature and be able to reproduce.
Loggerhead turtles are known to lay their eggs along the beachs of North Topsail Beach.
One of the missile tracking towers that remain from Operation Bumblebee. Contrary to rumor, the towers were not built for tracking submarines off the coast in World War II.
North Topsail Beach and Topsail Island