Sea Turtle Guardians

On Friday we went with the South Alabama chapter of Fresh Air Family, to Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to learn about how the Fish and Wildlife volunteers and staff watch out for nesting sea turtles.

Nesting season along the Gulf Coast is from May to October.  Each morning at sunrise the volunteers drive the beach looking for turtle tracks.  When they find them, they determine if the turtle tracks return to the water.  The measure the width of the tracks to determine which turtle it might be.  Green, Kemps Ridley and Loggerhead turtles frequent the Alabama beaches.  Measurements are taken from the nest to the water line and from the nest to the dune line.  If the nest is too close to the water and in danger of surf damage or being washed away, the volunteers move the eggs further inland several feet or yards.  Last, they post the area so the nest can be safe from human or preditor damage.  In order to keep coyotes, and other dune animals from digging up the eggs, a piece of metal fencing is laid over the sand, then covered over with more sand.  Four posts are hammered into the sand and wrapped in bright colored tape.  Last, a sign posting the law protecting the turtle nests is stapled to 2 of the 4 posts.

Bon Secoure National Wildlife Refuge at the Gulf of Mexico

Bon Secoure National Wildlife Refuge at the Gulf of Mexico

This is what turtle tracks would look like.

This is what turtle tracks would look like.

Digging for pretend turtle eggs to measure the depth of the nest...only if the nest needs moving.

Digging for pretend turtle eggs to measure the depth of the nest...only if the nest needs moving.

Loggerhead carapace and skull

Loggerhead carapace and skull

Kemps Ridley carapace

Kemps Ridley carapace

Turtle nest posting sign

Turtle nest posting sign

The whole event was interesting.  The volunteer let the children do the measuring, digging, posting, covering up of a mock turtle nest.

Alabama has a program called SHARE THE BEACH.  Its a trained volunteer program which allows people to help protect the threatened and endangered sea turtles every year.  After attended the training class (I believe in March or April) volunteers can help search for nests, assist hatchlings, educate the public at public events or just on the beach and talk with school groups. 

Don’t have time to help out?  You can adopt a nest on and off the Refuge.  For a donation as low as $20 ($10 for a student) you get a certificate, important information about the nest you’ve adopted and a final roport on the nesting season. 

But in the meantime, here are some tips on how you can make a difference for the sea turtles:

Avoid using flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night.

Turn off outside patio lights and shield indoor lights from shining onto the beach at night.

Leave sea turtle tracks and nests undisturbed.

Take all trash and belongings with you when you leave the beach.

Two important things to note:

 Turtles are guided by light.  The hatchlings instinctively follow light (the moon/sun) which should take them out to sea and relative safety.  If they see an artificial light, they’ll be drawn to that and consequently find themselves stuck on the dunes as preditor food.  Also, if you’re fishing at night, please use a red light flash light so you don’t attract other turtle preditors to the shore line. 

The other thing is that a lot of people find is easy to take stuff to the beach in those plastic grocery bags.  Well, they can fly away from you in a breeze and I’m astonished by how many people won’t go after them.  You won’t look stupid running down the beach after your trash.  In fact, I’ll personally applaud you.  I’ve gone after other’s bags, and the reason is that once in the water they look like jelly fish to the turtles (the thing they love to eat the most).  Once ingested, if the turtle doesn’t choke and suffocate first, the bag just stays in their bellies.  They starve to death because they feel full and don’t eat.  PLEASE, either bring a different bag to the beach or chase after yours if the wind carries it away.

Should you see a turtle in trouble or a nest that appears vandalized, please call 1-866-Sea-Turtle

For more information: www.alabamaseaturtles.com; in Florida: http://myfwc.com/WILDLIFEHABITATS/SeaTurtle_index.htm.  You can also check out www.seaturtles.org and read their blog.  There’s a sweet picture of a Ridley hatchling.  To help out with SHARE THE BEACH, call the Refuge at 251-540-7720.

Enjoy the beach.

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