BY OLIVIA CAMERON- The Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association’s Turtle Patrol members have worked each morning before the sun brightens the horizon to check turtle nests on the shoreline and bring hazardous habits to the attention of our residents and visitors.
Each morning, the group walks a portion of the quiet beach to monitor the state of turtle nests. They also pick up trash along the way to ensure that the beach is flat for hatchlings to make their way to the ocean.
The Turtle Patrol volunteer team, led by Donna Larson, set out earlier this week to check on previously marked nests and identify new ones. With wooden stakes and gloves slung over their shoulders, they headed out on the dark beach over by the south end.
A nest can be easily identified by the tracks leading to and from it, which may look like large ripples in the sand. Nests were measured, marked geographically and updated with the use of an app to keep a record of previously sought-out locations. Donna and her crew headed a few miles down the beach.
“These hatchlings were distracted by a light offshore,” said Donna, pointing out flipper tracks that looked like raindrops headed toward a residence opposite the ocean. Toward the curve of the beach was a tiny porch light that would be easily overlooked, but dangerous to a baby sea turtle if it were left on.
Light cast onto the beach can disorient hatchlings. They can easily mistake any form of light for the moon and gravitate toward it in an effort to reach the ocean. In going the wrong way, the hatchlings would extend their time exposed on the shore, leaving them dehydrated and subject to attack by a predator.
However, those tracks made a turn to the ocean, where it was determined they’d made it to the water successfully, despite quite an expedition for a two-inch-long turtle.
A mile down the beach, the patrol stopped at a nest they’ve been monitoring and took out the barrier stakes that surrounded it. Donna began to dig a few feet into the sand, and scooped a few hatched and untouched eggs from underneath. A few digs at a time, she lifted hatchlings from the hole. They were placed in a bucket until the nest was thoroughly checked. After the nest was excavated and inventoried, the remaining eggs were restored and covered.
Many of the eggs remained unborn, which Donna said could be because of the disturbance of recent storms or the fact that the hatchlings were a crossbreed.
The hatchlings, approximately seven of them, were then gently released halfway to the shore. Once they were released, the Sea Turtle Patrol made sure each newborn would get acclimated to the shore. This enhanced the likelihood that they would remember where to return to nest in the future.
Melissa Csank, member of the BGSTA, discussed the importance of protecting local sea life. “Every bit of data throughout the season is compiled at the end of the season and provided to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (and in some cases, others such as the county). Overall, this helps the FWC get a clear picture of the health of the species.”
Last season, the BGSTA documented 602 nests, which meant over 60,000 hatchlings left Gasparilla Island and braved the ocean. Please be very cautious of sea turtle nests this Fourth of July weekend, and please clean up your fireworks mess before you leave the beach. The turtles, as well as the Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association, thank you for your courtesy. Pictured- Sea turtle patrollers Donna Larson, Amber Veltman, Kennedy Veltman and Linda Blum documenting the nest that hatched. Photos by Olivia