Starting May 1, the first day of sea turtle nesting season, the Florida Coastal Conservancy begin to patrol the beaches every morning, searching for a telltale path of disturbed sand that indicates a visitor had arrived sometime during the night.
In the summertime, when the weather is warm, pregnant female sea turtles return to Gulf County beaches. They swim through the crashing surf and crawl up the beach before settling on a nesting spot above the high water mark.
Then, using their back flippers, the turtles dig nests in the sand and slowly drag themselves back to the ocean, leaving trails in their wake and nests to be discovered and marked by dedicated volunteers.
This year, the first two nests were discovered in the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on May 10. Both were loggerhead sea turtle nests.
The following morning, volunteers with the Florida Coastal Conservancy discovered another nest, with another discovered by the group the morning of the May 14, Mother’s Day.
“We welcomed another nest to our beach last night. A beautiful gift from the sea for this special day… wishing all moms out there a very happy Mother’s Day!” They wrote in a Facebook post.
Sea turtles require flat, clean and dark conditions to lay their nests, which the conservancy said can be difficult to maintain as human development encroaches on the shoreline.
The Florida Coastal Conservancy is encouraging locals and tourists to leave no trace after visiting county beaches — which includes removing all items from the beach at night, filling in any holes and turning off any unnecessary lighting.
Nests discovered by the conservancy are roped off to prevent human interference. Each year, the organization keeps track of thousands of hatchlings, with each individual turtle laying up to 100 eggs.
The eggs are expected to begin hatching around June.
Several species of endangered sea turtle regularly nest on Florida Panhandle beaches, including the loggerhead, the green turtle and the leatherback. Only permitted turtle patrol volunteers are legally allowed to touch a sea turtle nest or hatchling. Violators of this law face significant fines.
Those interested in becoming a turtle patrol volunteer are encouraged to contact FCC at [email protected].