ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sea turtles will start hatching along the coast in the next few weeks, making a journey from their sandy nests to the ocean.
Several groups, including the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are patrolling the beaches to make sure the threatened and endangered species are left alone.
A man in Jupiter was arrested last week for poaching more than 100 sea turtle eggs. He could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol is out in full force every morning to make sure that doesn't happen in Northeast Florida. They're checking the beaches for any signs of turtle tracks to locate possible nests.
"We're out here a little before sunrise because most turtle activity happens at night,” volunteer Bill McCullum said.
McCullum has been on patrol for about 10 years and said many people don't know much about sea turtles. The biggest misconception, he said, is that the mother turtle will return for her babies.
"Turtles are very solitary; they live on their own,” he said. "She covers them up, pats them down, fills in the hole and throws sand over it to disguise it from predators and goes back to the ocean, and that's it for her."
McCullum said that's why it's important for people to leave the baby turtles alone. When patrol volunteers spot a nest, they mark it with netting, warning signs and a bucket.
"We have a lot of foxes, dogs, raccoons and other predators (to worry about),” McCullum said. “We also want to make people aware of the nests."
The Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol works closely with FWC officers to keep an eye on the sea turtle nests along Northeast Florida beaches.
This year has been a little different, as the beaches from Ponte Vedra Beach to north Atlantic Beach are getting renourished. That means there will be fresh sand laid out, as well as some leveling during hatching season.
FWC personnel and patrol volunteers have relocated dozens of sea turtle nests to Atlantic Beach.
"We have to dig the nest up, take the eggs out -- one at a time -- put them in a bucket, drive them up here, dig up a new nest (and) put them in there, so it's a lot of work,” McCullum said.
There are already more than 50 nests in the area, which could average about 100 eggs each, but the odds of survival are slim for the baby turtles.
"They're endangered, the sea turtles,” McCullum said. “Last year we had about 7,000 eggs on our beach, and out of those, they estimated only about seven will survive. So if we can just save one turtle, we think we're doing a great job."
There are some things that people can do to help out while they're at the beach:
- Do not disturb the nests.
- Don't leave any trash or other items on the beach.
- Fill in any holes or craters in the sand before leaving, so the sea turtle hatchlings have a clear path.
- Report any nesting problems or stray hatchlings to the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol at 904-613-6081 or FWC at 1-888-404-3922.
Anyone lucky enough to witness the sea turtles emerging from the sand should be sure to turn off any lights, so the turtles can follow the moonlight to the ocean.