Sea turtle watchers standing guard for nests at Naval Station Mayport

MAYPORT, Fla. – Sea turtle watchers have set up orange barriers across Mayport beach to protect 17 Loggerhead sea turtle nests -- an unexpectedly high number for the beach since several dunes were destroyed in recent hurricanes.

Sea Turtle program staff at Mayport are doing what they can daily to protect the highly vulnerable nests.

Heather Hahn, the natural and cultural resources manager at Naval Station Mayport, said last year, the staff watched over 54 nests and they have seen an increase in nesting over the last few years, but they weren’t sure they would get any nests at all this year after the storm damage.

“We always hoped that they would come back. For this season, they were actually a little late by about a month, so they gave us a little bit of anxiety before they decided to show up here,” Hahn said.

She pointed out that the beach was hit last year by both Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole, which can affect conditions for sea turtle nesting.

“For our beach, we lost a lot of sand so that means the tide comes in closer to the dune. Sea turtles when they nest, they want their eggs to stay high and dry. Our beach may not give them that opportunity in some spots,” Hahn said. “So the fact that we did take a lot of damage from those storms but they chose to come back and nest anyway is what makes it so special,”

She said it’s a challenge just for baby sea turtles to survive.

“It’s really hard being a baby sea turtle out in the ocean. They’re only about this big (holds thumb and forefinger inches apart) and everything wants to eat them,” Hahn said. “When all the hatchlings go out into the ocean, only about one in a thousand actually makes it to adulthood and that means only one in a thousand is going to come back to this area and nest again.”

It’s important for everyone at the beach to be mindful of the nests and sea turtles.

Don’t touch or disturb them and keep things as quiet as possible if you see sea turtles or hatchlings on the beach.

“They know what they’re doing, and you’ve just got to let them do their thing,” Hahn said. “You can always take photos. Just stay at a safe distance, don’t use flash and just let them be the turtles that they are.”

The eggs in the nests could hatch as early as the end of this month.

To help them make it safely to the ocean, remember to keep the beach “clean, dark and flat.” Don’t leave holes behind that they could fall into, keep lights off so they don’t get confused as they use the moon to find the ocean and don’t leave trash that might block their path to the water.

About the Authors:

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.