Questions about sea turtle patrol
I see you patrol the beach each morning at dawn. What exactly do you do?
Sea Turtle Trackers, under FWC permit, patrol each and every day of turtle season (April – October) beginning one-half hour before sunrise. Usually in a team of two, we walk or drive the 5.8 kilometres of St Pete beach searching for turtle tracks that will lead us to a nest made during the previous night. We also patrol the shoreline of Shell Key nature preserve and Outback Key which is only accessible by boat. When we spot a nest, we mark it with stakes and tape, and measure its location, and, if necessary, may cover it with a cage. We record this information as we are required to report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In addition to looking for new nests, we check the marked nests every day.
Can anyone do this, or do you need some sort of license or permit?
Sea turtles are also protected under Florida statutes. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC,) in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), issues permits for activities involving marine turtles in Florida. All activities relating to marine turtles must be authorized under subsection 379.2431 (1), Florida Statutes. See 68E-1 Marine Turtle Permit Rule. To qualify for a marine turtle permit, the applicant must have the appropriate knowledge and experience, and demonstrate that the proposed activity adds to the conservation of marine turtles. Permit Holders must adhere to the Florida Marine Turtle Conservation Handbook. Bruno Falkenstein is the authorized Marine Turtle Permit Holder for our area.
For more information, see FWC’s website page on sea turtles: http://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/.
When is sea turtle season? What does STT do in the ‘off-season?’
We patrol from April through end of October each year. Most nests are laid in May – July and hatch by September. There is always plenty to do! STT runs educational events and beach clean-ups year-round. During the winter months, we also fundraise, prepare equipment, and run training sessions for the next season.
How do you know there is a nest?
Each morning during turtle season, before the beach rakers and visitors arrive, we patrol the beach looking for the tracks of any momma turtles who laid their nests during the night. With our trained eyes we follow the distinctive tracks to find the tell-tale signs of the nest. We use visual clues to determine whether the turtle actually made a nest or if it was a 'false crawl' (non-nesting emergence). In some cases, (for instance, if we will have to cage the nest) we may need to gently brush away some of the sand to locate the top of the egg chamber.
Why do you mark the nests on the beach? Why do some have black wire cages?
When we spot a nest, we mark it with stakes and tape to protect it from the beach traffic like the police, beach raker, garbage trucks, and visitors who might inadvertently damage a nest. This also helps us to find it easily and keep an eye on it to ensure it is left undisturbed by humans. Some nests require more protection for the hatchlings and these have black wire ‘restraining’ cages. A restraining cage is used in areas with lots of artificial (that is, man-made) lighting shinning onto/near the beach. This lighting can ‘disorient’ or distract the turtles and they may crawl towards the human light source instead of the Gulf of Mexico. Hatchlings that ‘disorient’ usually die. Just before a nest is ready to hatch, 45 days after being laid, if needed, we will place a black wire cage over it to prevent hatchling from going in the wrong direction. A volunteer must ‘close the cage’ each evening at sunset and we open the cages each morning on beach patrol.
If I see a nesting sea turtle, what do I do?
If you encounter a nesting female, immediately call us or the police who will contact us. You should stay a good distance (20 feet) behind her and outside of her sight line. Never use flash photography or attempt to touch her.
Can I touch the turtles / hatchlings? When they hatch can I help them get to the water? What do I do if I find disoriented hatchlings making for Gulf Blvd?
Sea turtles and their hatchlings are protected by Federal law and it is a violation of the law to touch, feed or interfere in any way with these creatures. It is our objective for the nesting and hatching process to be as natural as possible and we only intervene if the hatchlings disorient or are caged. Only those operating under a State FWC permit are allowed to interact with the turtles and their hatchlings. Disoriented hatchlings are those moving away from the Gulf towards artificial light/Gulf Blvd into the dunes, condos, parking lots or streets. If you are unsure a hatchling is disoriented or in trouble, call the phone number below and continue observe the hatchling from a distance until assistance arrives. If you see any disoriented hatchlings on the beach please call us immediately at 727-744-6524 or 727-501-5581 for instructions. Do not put hatchlings in any water, feed them or return them to the ocean. You may be instructed to place them in a bucket with some sand and cover the bucket with a towel; we'll have one of our volunteers come get them from you. Thank you for keeping an eye out for these turtle babies. Note: it is illegal for individuals to keep sea turtle or hatchlings, so call us right away. Or call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell phone
Do you relocate nests or turtles?
Under FWC guidelines, turtle nests are only rarely relocated in extreme circumstances to avoid total destruction of the eggs.
What area(s) does Sea Turtle Trackers cover? What if I find turtles on beach areas outside Sea Turtle Trackers area of responsibility?
Sea Turtle Trackers holds the permit for St Pete Beach and the nature preserve of Shell Key Island. For any turtle issues outside our area call the FWC 24 hour hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.