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Wildlife on 30A: Sea Turtles

21st March 2015

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Photocredit: BlueLivingIdeas.com

The sea turtles that nest along 30A are essential members of our local ecology. Sea turtles have been called the “coal mining canaries” of the marine system because the health of sea grass beds is dependent upon them. Many species of fish and shellfish depend on sea grass beds; the condition of sea grass significantly affects the rest of the marine ecosystem. View Sea Turtle Documentary video.

ENDANGERED AND THREATENED

Local sea turtles are on the endangered and threatened species list. They have existed since the dinosaur era; now their numbers are dwindling due to human habitat destruction, artificial lighting and pollution. The loss of sea turtles would mean a loss of many species that could make life vulnerable for all of us.

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Loggerhead Turtles. Photocredit: NatureWorldNews.com

FIVE LOCAL SPECIES

There are five species of sea turtles on the beaches of South Walton – Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, Green, Leatherback and Hawksbill. This is the only known place in the world where all five species co-exist. All are on either the endangered or threatened species list and are protected by federal law.

FEDERAL PROTECTION

Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act. There is a $2,500 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone who touches sea turtles, their nests or hatchlings.

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Photocredit: SouthWaltonTurtleWatch.org

NESTING

Nesting season runs from May 1st through October 31st. During this time the South Walton Turtle Watch, a group of volunteers, walk along the beaches looking for turtle tracks every morning just before sunrise. The mother turtles, who are returning to their own birthplace, leave telltale tracks in the sands, easily identifiable due to the type of white sands in this area.

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Photocredit: SouthWaltonTurtleWatch.org

HATCHLINGS

Once they find the adult turtle tracks, the volunteers will mark the nest. It’s important for everyone to stay away from any place with marks (flags.) After 50 days the nests are closely monitored for signs of movement (indentation.) Only about 1 out of 1,000 baby turtles make it to adulthood. Turtle hatchlings face many dangers and can die from dehydration or predator attack if they don’t make it to the safety of water fast enough.

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Photocredit: travelbelles.com

DANGERS

Sea turtles face an overabundance of obstacles for survival. Mother turtles who are trying to lay their eggs may become startled by humans; if frightened, they will not nest. Objects in the sand, such as beach chairs, toys, tents, umbrellas, flotation devices, trash, etc. create barriers they may have a hard time navigating around. Hatchlings, as well as the adults, can get trapped by the obstructions and may perish as a result.

Holes in the sand, although fun for kids to dig, can be deadly to sea turtles that can fall in and get trapped. If you or your kids dig holes, please fill them up when you are ready to leave the beach.

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Photocredit: bylandersea.com

Artificial lights create another challenge for sea turtles. The turtles instinctively are drawn to the brightest light they can find. Traditionally, this would have been the reflection of the moon on the sea, but in populated areas this may mean local streets, in people’s carports or any number of areas where bright lights may lead them astray. If you visit our beaches during turtle nesting season, it is really important for you to turn off any beach facing lights at night and use a red light flashlight at night. Turtles can’t easily see light in the red spectrum so they are considered safe during this time.

GUIDELINES

Here are some guidelines to follow if you encounter a sea turtle during your 30A beach vacation.

1. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission Division of Law Enforcement if you find hatchlings wandering in a direction other than towards water. The number is 1-888-404-FWCC or South Walton Turtle Watch Leader Sharon Maxwell at 850-685-6281.
2. If you find hatchlings on the beach watch from a distance, allow them to crawl to the water on their own (they need to imprint their own home beach), leave them in their nest and keep all lights off.
3. If you see a female sea turtle nesting please stays behind her, keep your distance and remain quiet. Don’t use any lights, including flashlights, flash photography or video equipment. Don’t put your hands on or near the turtle. Any distractions may frighten or disorient her, causing her to return to the water before completing nesting.
4. We can’t emphasize it enough – if you find a stranded turtle please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission Division of Law Enforcement if you find hatchlings wandering in a direction other than towards water. The number is 1-888-404-FWCC. Or you may call South Walton Turtle Watch Leader Sharon Maxwell at 850-685-6281.

For more information, contact South Walton Turtle Watch here.

Have you ever seen a Sea Turtle nest or hatchling? Where were you?