On Florida beaches, everyone gets involved in saving sea turtles
A green turtle makes it way to the ocean on a beach in Florida. (Photo: Mark Conlin/V&W/NewsCom)
It’s lights out along the beaches of Volusia County, Florida, from May 1 to October 31. That’s when newly hatched turtles leave their shells behind in search of ocean waters and home.
Bright lights from beachfront homes and businesses can distract the young turtles, causing them to crawl in the wrong direction, away from the sea. In Volusia County, the summer is all about continuing the sea turtles’ life cycle, which has been going on for thousands of years along the eastern shores of Florida.
“We encourage people to join the Volusia Sea Turtle Society to teach awareness of the different species of endangered sea turtles on our beaches,” said Jennifer Winters, program manager of the Sea Turtle Habitat Conservation Plan for Volusia County.
The Volusia Sea Turtle Society recruits volunteers to patrol beaches to look for turtle nests. About 100 baby turtles, called hatchlings, crawl out of each nest. Volunteers mark and protect nests. Some even adopt nests, recording and protecting them from start to finish.
The laying cycle begins in early May when hundreds of sea turtles—leatherback, loggerhead, and green—come ashore to lay their eggs. They dig nests in the dry sand and lay their eggs. They disguise the nests by covering them with sand before heading back to sea. The hatchlings dig their way out about two months later.
During the nesting period, the fragile eggs must be protected from cars and people. Steve Kintner, director of Environmental Management for Volusia County, explained how the county government helps do that.
“We have developed a program that removes the environmental negatives to driving on the beach,” he said. “We have people who drill conservation posts into the sand to prevent people from driving and parking on the soft sand where turtles nests may be found.” Too much weight on a nest can crush the eggs.
The Sea Turtle Society posts rules to teach beachgoers about how best to enjoy the seashore without disturbing the turtles. The rules include staying at least 30 feet away from a sea turtle or hatchling, not shining lights on the beach at night, and avoiding the marked nest areas.
Volusia is looking forward to a fruitful 2007 season. In 2006, volunteers counted 399 sea-turtle nests. The last nest was laid on August 25.
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Jimmy Pitenis is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.