05-15-2012, 06:23 AM #1
Turtle Season May 1 through Oct. 31, 2012
Turtle season kicked off across the Emerald Coast on May 1 and volunteer turtle walkers have begun their annual daybreak walks to look for the distinctive tracks sea turtles leave behind on our beaches.
Sharon Maxwell heads the organization known as the South Walton Turtle Watch. She began walking South Walton's beaches in 1993 at Grayton State Park for the Parks System. She helped form South Walton Turtle Watch in 1995. The organization consists of all volunteers who walk the county's 26 miles of beaches just after daybreak each day, searching for the “crawls” of sea turtles. These trails most often mean the female turtle came ashore during the night and laid her eggs in a nest she dug in the sand.
The sea turtles are listed as endangered in this area, and include the Kemp’s ridley, green, loggerhead, and leatherback.
The nests are marked and watched until the eggs hatch between July and October. The gestation period for hatching in this area is a little over two months.
So far, no nests have been found, which is not unusual for this time of year, said Maxwell.
"The water temperature has to be 81 to 83 degrees before we see anything," she said. The current water temperature she believes is around 77 degrees.
The first nest is not normally found until May 15-21.
"No one has seen any crawls yet," she said. "Port St. Joe and Panama City see crawls before we do and they haven't seen any yet."
In recent years the typical nest count has been around 30 per year. Last year's count was 32. In 2000, however, there were 58, which was a high year. Maxwell doesn't think we will see that many this time around.
"We used to have 40 and above, but I don't think there are that many sea turtles any more. We are on a downward trend," she said.
However, she is hopeful.
"Leatherbacks and greens are up on the East Coast, so, hopefully our loggerheads will be too," she said.
Maxwell explains that there are loggerheads throughout the world, but the ones that come up on our beaches are a sub population that are unique to our white sandy beaches and, as a whole, are a threatened population.
"There are not that many," she said. "They are dwindling due to the changing of our beaches. There are more people on the beach at night than there used to be and a greater number of sea walls."
However, the obstacles facing the turtles start in the Gulf with things such as long-line fishing, and every year they are hit by boats, said Maxwell.
"They are trying to compete with man and hopefully man will try to be a better friend. It's not that we're bad people, we just get into what we're doing," she said.
Those “doings” include not complying with lighting ordinances, using flashlights on the beach at night, and throwing plastic bags into the Gulf.
"When people throw plastic bags into the Gulf, the turtles see them and think they are jellyfish and open their mouths," she explained.
She also warned about leaving objects on the beach. If a turtle encounters an obstacle on land, whether human or something man-made, they will usually turn and go back into the water without laying their eggs.
"If you're on the beach and a turtle comes ashore, stand back and give her plenty of room," said Maxwell. "Don't touch her. And if any help is needed, call the Walton County Sheriff's Department."
Turtle season runs May 1 through Oct. 31.
05-15-2012, 06:25 AM #2
The first nest of the season was found in Miramar Beach - A rare Kemp's Ridley momma.
05-15-2012, 03:22 PM #3
07-05-2012, 07:24 AM #5
Thank you Kurt for your post.
However there is a lot more that needs to be done, and if the community does not step up and take action, it will not get done.
I am not currently a turtle watch volunteer, although I used to be one, so I do not speak for the turtle watch officially. However as a permanent resident with a strong love for the beach and our wildlife I am very concerned. So far this nesting season at least two nests that I know of have been vandalized.
The Leave No Trace ordinance is not being enforced. Beach vendors are setting up earlier than allowed, and nothing is being done about it. All the turtle watch wants in the morning is an hour after sunrise to be able to find the nests. Volunteers are up and walking the beach before dawn in order to try to not miss any nests.
Vendors have set up too early on top of turtle tracks and this makes it likely they will be missed and possibly damaged. Nesting mother turtles have been disoriented while trying to find their way back to the sea after nesting, and when hatchlings start coming out of the nests that and all the stuff on the beach will be a huge problem, as will the lights.
Sections of our beach with multiple turtle nests have almost no lighting in compliance, and we have had the ordinance now for three years. Not much has changed since its adoption at all.
There is one code enforcement officer assigned to these beach issues, and he is doing a good job, but he is only one, for 26 miles of beach. And I understand he has also been tasked with sorting out the deficiencies at the TDC building, and who knows what other assignments.
There are other problems on the beach as well. A couple of days ago I saw a very dangerous pile of half-buried broken glass. And we are all too aware of the need for continuing rip tide education and flag education, and I do think we could use more flags, closer together.
This morning the beach was littered with fireworks trash. If the SO and the Fire Dept are serious about enforcing the state fireworks laws then more education and enforcement is needed there too.
And never mind the parking and beach access issues. It is my understanding that the TDC can buy land, that it has been done in other parts of the state. I think we are out of balance with the TDC revenues. The advertising has worked very well but not nearly enough has been spent to preserve the very beach that we are advertising.
We want our tourists to come here and enjoy everything we have to offer, and we want the businesses who serve them to make money. But we also want the tourists to be safe and to behave responsibly. I have been here long enough that I remember when we didn’t have a flag system, and there was a big debate about getting one.
Perhaps it would scare people? Perhaps it would lead to increased liability for the county? And I remember the debates over Leave No Trace and the decades-long debate over a lighting ordinance. There has always been a pervasive attitude here of leave people alone to make their own choices, have their fun, and keep coming back. I believe we are at a turning point now. It’s time for the community to step up and take responsibility or watch this place turn into a free for all that ends up trashing the very thing, the only thing really, that we have to sell.
I am pasting below an email that Sharon Maxwell, who heads up the turtle watch, received back from the county in response to her own email detailing these problems. I think it is quite clear. The county is not going to help. So it’s up to the community, because the turtle watch cannot do it all.
They are mostly volunteers and they have their hands full. If South Walton wants sea turtles to continue to be able to reproduce here, if they want clean, safe beaches, then it’s time to take some action.
There is much that rental management companies, individuals who own properties on or near the gulf, condo association management companies and businesses that thrive here can do. The county has the information on lighting, and it is not expensive to change out these bad lights, especially not when you consider the revenues these properties produce and the prices people pay for them. But help is needed to inform property owners of their responsibilities.
Regarding safety and beach rules, much of the information can be emailed when reservations are made. Educational materials can be placed in many locations including but not limited to accommodations.
But people in positions that give them the ability to do these things and others (be creative!) must take it on themselves.
Whatever the attitudes that are in the way, (not my job, I’m too busy, I don’t care about turtles, I don’t want my guests to get mad at me for telling them what they can and cannot do, etc) please lose those ideas and move forward.
Just my two cents.
We recognize your concerns about lighting on the beach and the need to inform property owners and visitors about our lighting ordinance. Accordingly, we have developed informational materials about the effects of artificial lights on sea turtles as well as information on the requirements of the County's Wildlife Lighting Ordinance.
We have placed this information on the County website and at several locations including the South Walton Courthouse Annex, the District 5 Commissioner's Office, and the TDC. We also have worked directly with properties such as the Sandestin Hilton and Gulf Trace to assist them in coming into compliance with the ordinance.
One of the biggest challenges we have is reaching every property owner or visitor who needs to know about our lighting regulations and the need to protect sea turtles. Although we would like to do so, the ordinance does not require the County to mail out a notification to every property in the Wildlife Conservation Zone. A comprehensive mail out would be a large and expensive undertaking that likely would not be effective.
I think that we can accomplish more and with better effect by collaborating with stakeholder groups and individuals who can make personal contacts with visitors and by working with TDC to take advantage of some of the media/communications resources they have at their disposal.
The package of brochures you requested is at the Planning Department desk at the South Walton Annex.
Thanks and do not hesitate to call me if you have any questions or need additional information.
Last edited by kurt; 07-05-2012 at 11:35 AM.
Lots of helpful information on the turtle watch site:
I agree with all the sentiments regarding protecting a valuable resource. It would make so much sense to direct a portion of the bed tax revenue to resource protection as opposed to mostly advertising and trash pickup. The beach is a resource to be protected, not just exploited. Over the long haul, resource protection enhances the value and produces more revenue and a better quality of life for everyone, both those lucky enough to live at the beach, as well as those just visiting.
07-05-2012, 11:55 AM #7
I do personally think the county, the TDC management and the community could do lots more if it recognized the value in it. And I guess to summarize, it makes me sad that they seem not to.
Interesting insight from Sharon Maxwell:
Nest #2 was dug 7-23-2012 early morning, a pleasant surprise when we found 67 live Kemp hatchlings crammed in very hard sand, they could not move or breath, there were also 2 dead embryos, and 5 infertile in the nest.
At about 8 p.m. we went back to release these turtles, Dawn had gone ahead to get folks to turn off their lights, as it was Costa Del Sol and all the condo porch lights and lights from other condo shine brightly in this area.
That was good and bad, lights were turned off but that got folks talking and by the time I got the hatchlings there is was a circus. lots of people, so we all got to work, talking, explaining giving out information we have, we even took a few hatchling out to show so folks would stay away from coolers, no flash, no flashlights, and on and on. Dawn gave a wonderful speech and we said no children on beach they must be on the walkover and everyone back of the cooler, we let 10 go.
Well, children came back the folks keep getting in front of cooler, crowd control was impossible. The volunteers were very busy and doing their best. finally when one women who appeared to have been drinking, and yes, I saw that also, screamed she had lost her child, when he was sleeping in the room, we picked up the turtles and took them to release them another place.
It is very discouraging when you try so hard to educate folks, and give them a very special experience and then have them not hear you at all and just do as they want. It seems to me as if parents, or responsible folks just want their children to be able to be right in the front, seeing and being, Not really caring about the hatchlings just about the moment for their children.
Last night we told people time and time again to keep the children back and they would not do it, and so they all had to miss the experience. The message to the children is "don't pay attention to what others say just do what you want to do, and I as an adult will support you."
Not a message I ever want my child to hear or see. So from now on we are not releasing hatchlings and telling others about it, and of course no children. I felt like we were not educating, nobody seemed interested in what we said or red light emitting flashlights but that they had the moment and didn't really care about sea turtles.
07-25-2012, 02:17 PM #9
In the words of the great and wise Sheldon Cooper....
"One cries because one is sad. I cry because others are stupid and that makes me sad.".
[So from now on we are not releasing hatchlings and telling others about it, and of course no children. I felt like we were not educating, nobody seemed interested in what we said or red light emitting flashlights but that they had the moment and didn't really care about sea turtles.]
Our family got to see this once, and it was unforgettable. So sorry that this is how it has to be.
But, from what I'm hearing how the summer went, I DON'T BLAME YOU.
08-26-2012, 11:55 PM #12
Turtle nests and Isaac?
Does anyone know if Turtle Watch is going to relocate eggs from nests or do they just let nature take its course and let them get destroyed....I really hope they save some of the nest but would understand if they take a hands off approach.
08-27-2012, 07:42 PM #13
South Walton Turtle Watch has saved several hundred hatchlings from drowning by digging nests that had already shown signs of the eggs hatching (live hatchlings in the nest). The rest are not viable and nature must take it's course.
08-27-2012, 10:22 PM #14
Only nests that are over 50 days can be moved.~~~~~~~~_/)~~~~~~~~
SWTWG had 96 sea turtle nests before Hurricane Isaac hit.
3 nests had washed away in TS Debbie
59 Nest had either hatched or been dug for evaluation before H Isaac\
11 Nest have completely washed away
1 nest the eggs were washing but found and reburied
1 nest hatched this morning 8-28-2012
16 nests had water over them and for how long a period we do not know. The longer the water over them the less likely they are to hatch.
Only 5 nests did not have water over them.
So SWTWG is doing what they always to and walking each morning now looking for nest hatchings and are hopeful.
08-31-2012, 11:44 AM #16
08-31-2012, 11:46 AM #17
Thanks for the update Kurt. I agree...better news than I would have thought.
More details from Marla
Update from Sharon:
Sometime durning Hurricane Isaac I got a phone call from the LifeGuards near our nest #62, didn't know the nest number at the time. They were finding washing eggs, they wondered what to do.
I told them to gather the eggs and put them into a bucket. I called Joyce and she went down and got the eggs, and reburied them, all 72, at the top of a Dune, far out of the storms way. This area we were checking daily also. Well, God, is good and these eggs hatched. The hatchlings had to slip down a large drop off but they did and went to the water.
70 of the eggs hatched, 1 was alive in the nest. and 1 was a non hatched egg. Can you believe it, I find it hard to. Great job Joyce on doing exactly what I ask you to do and making a fine second nest. So eggs can be reburied and hatch. Aren't we lucky, and the sun is out. Cheers to a great bunch of volunteers.
09-09-2012, 11:13 AM #21
Great News!"Look with your understanding, find out what you already know and you'll see the way to fly"...
From Sharon Maxwell:
The last nest has hatched for the sea turtle year 2012 for the South Walton Turtle Watch Group and I would like to thank all the people who helped make this year a banner one for us.
First and foremost the SWTWG volunteers for all of there tireless walking, monitoring, and for getting up so early to do it all. The TDC and especially the TDC Beach people. They are always there and always ready to help. Jeff McVay for all his time and work. The Vendors who followed the rules and allowed us to do our morning monitors so that they could get on the beach in a timely manner.
The Beach Patrol for all of their help and understanding. The Lifeguards who call when anything turtle takes place and who with a call, saved 70 sea turtle eggs so that they could be reburied and go on to hatch. The fire department for working with us when bonfire permits are issues. To all who live and visit South Walton County for handing out our literature, keeping your beachfront lights off, changing your lighting fixtures, and for using red light emitting flashlights on the beach. It is so nice to work with you all to help these wonderful endangered sea turtles.
Anyone who would like to volunteer for SWTWG for the 2013 season be sure and watch or website southwaltonturtlewatch.org for training date. It will be in March toward the end in Panama City at Gulf Cost CC from 9-1.
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