See Turtles!

Unlike last summer, we didn’t plan this year’s trip to the beach as a turtle adventure; however, to our surprise Manasota Key turned out to be a sea turtle paradise. Upon check in, the woman at the desk pointed out the turtle information in the packet and told us that a turtle recently came ashore during the middle of the day and laid its eggs at the corner of the building in which we’d be staying. It was even difficult to find a place to set up chairs and umbrellas around all of the nests.

Then while walking taking a walk on our first night, we noticed turtle tracks on the beach and saw a loggerhead returning to the gulf after making a false crawl. Even though we didn’t see any turtles laying eggs, it’s still pretty amazing to see one on the beach lumbering through the sand.

The next day as we headed out to fish from the shore we met Richard, a volunteer with the Coastal Wildlife Club Turtle Patrol. His job that morning was to excavate a nest that hatched three days earlier to take a count of the number of turtles that hatched and to determine if any hatchlings remained in the nest. When I stopped to ask about the excavation, he drafted me as his assistant.

Richard dug out the nest removing the shells as well as the unhatched eggs while I recorded the information in the notebook kept by the volunteers. He unearthed ninety-nine hatched eggs and eleven more that did not hatch and appeared as though they never developed. Before the excavation, Richard said the nests were averaging about 110 eggs, and that’s exactly what we found.

Our final morning on the beach resulted in another day of working with the Turtle Patrol volunteers. On this day, five nests invaded by predators had to be excavated in search of living turtles. In the first nest 19 hatchlings and another eight pipped eggs were removed and relocated to the Turtle Patrol headquarters for observation and release at a later time.

While three of the volunteers took care of the turtles found in the disturbed nests and then protected them with wire to discourage further problems with predators, I joined a fourth volunteer, Adam, checking on the remaining nests and looking for evidence of hatches as well as new nests. We identified two more nests predated by armadillos, two new nests – one a green turtle nest, which is not very common, and one nest that hatched.

What a great way to spend the final day at the beach!

 

Time to Make Turtle Reservations

 

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Interested in witnessing a sea turtle make its nest and lay its eggs? Then now is the time to make reservations with the Sea Turtle Conservancy, the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle group in the world!

Not only does STC conduct sea turtle research in places like Costa Rica and Panama and track turtles throughout the Western Hemisphere, they also provide education and outreach programs designed to inform people about the importance of habitat protection to the survival of manatee and other tropical wildlife, in addition to sea turtles.

One of the programs provides visitors to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard County, Florida the opportunity to witness a sea turtle nesting and laying eggs. Walks are conducted by the Sea Turtle Conservancy on Monday – Friday nights between June 2nd and August 1st, 2014.

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It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we made reservations and joined STC guides on a turtle walk. We met in the Visitor’s Center for a brief orientation with information on sea turtle nesting and the rules we’d need to follow while observing a sea turtle laying its eggs. Meanwhile spotters scoured the beach along the barrier island trying to locate turtles that had come on shore to lay eggs. Once it was determined that a turtle was making a nest and had begun laying eggs, the spotter radioed the Visitor Center with the exact spot so the guide could lead us to the proper location.

We’d been warned that we could wait three or more hours for a turtle to come ashore, and that it may be necessary for us to walk up to a 1/2 mile each way in soft sand. We also needed to be prepared to contend with mosquitoes and sand fleas so long pants, long sleeve shirts, and insect repellent were recommended.

We were lucky…our wait was less than an hour, the walk only about a 100 feet, with few bugs. We watched for nearly an hour as a loggerhead laid its eggs and then made its way back to the ocean, and in the distance we could see a leatherback nesting.

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The cost is $15 per person, which must be paid in advance to reserve one of the 22 spots available each night. Children are welcome but must be at least 7 years old to attend. No refunds are provided and there are no guarantees that a turtle will come ashore, but its worth the effort.

Make your reservations today by visiting http://www.conserveturtles.org/Secure/bicTurtleWalkTerms.php

 

 

It’s Turtle Nesting Time

IMG_4071The Venice Sea Turtle Patrol, along with other Sea Venice painted turtles would like to remind you that tomorrow is the first official day of sea turtle nesting season on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The season began in March on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, and you can help these endangered creatures by remembering a few simple things:

  • Avoid disturbing marked sea turtle nests, and do not leave trash on the beach.
  • Do not climb over the dunes or disturb the dune vegetation.
  • Do not disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings, or their nests – it’s against the law!  The Federal Endangered Species Act and the Florida Marine Protection Act protect sea turtles.
  • Avoid going to the beach at night. Do not use flashlights or flash photography.
  • Turn off outside patio lights and close the drapes at night to shield indoor lights from shining directly onto the beach.

Finally, if you see an injured or dead sea turtle, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell phone. Please be prepared to answer the following questions: What is the exact location of the animal? Is the turtle alive or dead? What is the approximate size of the turtle? Is the turtle marked with spray paint? (This indicates that the turtle has been documented.) What is the location of the closest access point to the turtle? (From Sea Turtle Conservancy website.)

And who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky and see a turtle or hatchlings on shore!

Authentic Florida

A couple of months ago I started receiving Authentic Florida,  a monthly newsletter which focuses on simple and delightful pleasures for living in Florida. The newsletter highlights Florida travel and Florida living, and I’m often reminded of places I’ve visited or hope to visit.

This month’s edition included 50 Authentic Things To Do In Florida in recognition of their 50th newsletter. I was amazed at how many of these things I’ve done during the past 12 months.

How many I’ve done in previous years:

  • Tubing the Ichetucknee
  • Reflecting at the Bok Tower
  • Snorkeling for Florida Scallops
  • Cabbage Key’s Cheeseburger in Paradise
  • Historic Cedar Key
  • Spelunking Florida’s Caverns
  • Letting Go on the Hillsborough River
  • Birding at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge
  • Alligators at Myakka State Park
  • Matlacha’s Lovegrove Gallery

And how many are on my “To Do” list:

  • Reflecting at the Bok Tower
  • An Oak Canopy on Ft. George Island
  • The White Sands of Siesta Key
  • Old Florida on the Chassahowitzka River
  • Paddleboarding
  • Wateralls at Rainbow Springs
  • Fossiling on the Peace River
  • Picking Florida Blueberries
  • Beachcombing for Shark’s Teeth

It’s great to read about the adventures of others to plan weekend getaways. Any suggestions?

 

11 Down; 2 To Go

Last month we walked and rode the beach in Fernandina observing the sea turtles nests hoping to see hatchlings emerging. While we were not successful in July, we studied the dates on the nests and looked at our calendar to determine when we could return for a second attempt.

Since many of the eggs were laid between June 20th and June 30th, the weekend of August 23rd seemed like time to try again. Another bonus, the tides during this weekend would allow us to ride our bikes on the beach so we could cover more territory. We made reservations, packed our bags, loaded our bikes on the car, and took off Friday afternoonIMG_0742

in the pouring rain. Another weather impaired 13 in 13 adventure.

We arrived slightly before sunset so we were unable to check out the nests and their progress Friday evening. Our plan…get up at 5:30. Begin riding north on the beach by 6:00 (in the dark since sunrise was at 7:00). We rode to Ft. Clinch, past the pier.

We encountered hundreds of critters scurrying across the beach, but they were ghost crabs, not turtles.

We came across a number of horseshoe crabs.IMG_0745

Then in the distance we saw an adult turtle on the beach. Maybe we’d see one laying eggs. IMG_0759

But to our disappointment, we found that a boat propeller had sliced its shell. No egg laying turtle. A dead one.

On our way back down the beach we stopped at every nest, noted the date, and looked for evidence of activity for a return later that evening. Many of the nests, especially in the park, had been covered by screens. Something we’d never seen before, an effort to protect the eggs from a predator, possibly a fox.

Not discouraged by the lack of hatchlings we decided to attend two excavations that evening before an evening ride in which we’d see if the nests we’d identified as promising were beginning to hatch.

The excavations eliminated two of the nests we’d identified since the turtles had emerged from them three days earlier. The Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch volunteers don’t remove the stakes after the hatch instead waiting for three days at which time they complete the excavation.

During the excavation the volunteers dig out the shards as well as any unhatched eggs. Since about one third of the excavations produce an unhatched turtle, we were hopeful that we’d see at least one hatchling make its way to the ocean. The first excavation produced 121 hatched shards and the second 79 with only about a half dozen unhatched eggs in each nest. No live turtles remained in either.

We continued with our plan riding north checking nests but didn’t notice any changes from our earlier ride. As the sun set we headed south to check out our final prospect only to find it surrounded by onlookers and a volunteer, red light in hand, explaining the hatching process.

The sand “boiled” with activity as the turtles made their way to the surface. We joined twenty or thirty people patiently watching the nest for about thirty minutes when the first turtle emerged. Once the first one escaped the nest, dozens of others quickly followed. The nest emptied in less than a minute and the hatchlings fanned out toward the ocean.

We provided a human shield to block the light from the condo behind the nest and serve as a barrier to a couple of hatchlings having difficulty orienting toward the ocean, but eventually all made it to the water.

I expected this to be a slow journey to the water, but in less than ten minutes no turtles remained on land. I can hardly believe how lucky we were to not only see the turtles hatch, but to see the hatching process.

The only disappointment…no pictures. No lights permitted. No flash allowed. I did try to take pictures without a flash…nothing! But the experience is better than a picture.

Eleven down! Two to go!

Fernandina Fun

We planned our weekend at Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach around watching for hatching sea turtles, but it turned out to be much more. We started out riding our bikes through the streets of Fernandina, but since I read about cars crashing into houses, banks, barber shops, and other businesses on a daily basis, I insisted on traveling on the beach or paths specifically for bikes. If drivers can’t avoid hitting buildings, what makes you think cyclists can safely share the road?

We rode on shady paths throughout Fort Clinch State Park and walked on the pier and saw our first sea turtle nest of the trip. Of course, we also toured the fort which was built shortly after the Second Seminole War and was put into service during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and again during World War II…a nice history lesson.

We continued down to the Fernandina Harbor on the Amelia River where we ate lunch, explored the local shops, and discovered some fun public art.

The next morning we cruised down the beach at sunrise and Sarah joined us for a ride to Amelia Island State Park.

We spied some reptiles, but not the sea turtles we hoped to see. Instead, we had to settle for a two turtles swimming in a pond and a gopher tortoise.

There are still bicycle trails waiting and sea turtles hatching so we’ll be returning soon.

 

 

Turtle Talk

Last weekend we attempted to complete #10 on our list of 13 in 13. After studying the information posted on the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch website, we drove to Fernandina Beach on Friday and checked out the nests around Main Beach Park. We decided on this part of the beach based on the number of nests, dates eggs were laid in the nests, and our ability to ride bikes on this stretch of the beach. Riding bikes enabled us to cover more than three miles of beach in our search for hatchlings.

Friday evening we surveyed the nests taking note of which ones were most likely to hatch, and then on Saturday before sunrise, we rode from south of Main Street Park to Fort Clinch in search of newly hatched sea turtles making their way to the ocean.

We found eggs shells. We spied turtle tracks. We did not see any hatchlings. We were too late.

We noted the location of nests likely to hatch in the next few weeks so we can make a return trip for another attempt.

While we failed to see hatching sea turtles, we enjoyed riding bikes on the beach.

We witnessed a gorgeous sunrise.

Best of all, we spent the day with Sarah.beachpic

And we have a excuse for another trip to the beach.

 

 

 

 

They’re Hatching!

Ten years ago we participated in a turtle walk in Brevard County and watched a loggerhead turtle deposit more than 100 eggs in the nest she prepared. For over an hour we watched her drop the eggs, cover the nest, and then lumber back to the Atlantic where she finally managed to swim away from the curious onlookers.loggerhead

One of my goals for this summer (and another of the items on the 13 in 13 list) is to witness sea turtles emerging from their nest. Thousands of nests have been built with tens of thousands eggs waiting to hatch. Since nesting began in early May and the average incubation period is 55 days, turtles are emerging along the coast of Florida.

While the Atlantic coast between Brevard and Broward counties contain the largest concentration of nests, we’re headed to Amelia Island for our first attempt this summer. The website for Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch details a nest summary which includes the date created, location, and excavation information. They’re hatching!

Hope to see this soon!
Hope to see this soon!

With a little luck we’ll witness the hatchlings emerge from their nests. I’ll keep you posted!

13 in 13

Sunrise on Flagler Beach - a good way to start the day.
Sunrise on Flagler Beach – a good way to start the day.

Instead of taking off  a couple of weeks this summer to go on a vacation, we’ve decided to enjoy short adventures throughout the year. To insure we don’t let the year slip away without actually getting away and making time for fun, we made a list we’re calling “13 in 13”. We’ve identified 13 things we want to do to make 2013 special.

Our list includes attending a Rays baseball game, and drinking milkshakes at Mark Light Stadium during the FSU v Miami baseball series. But baseball isn’t the only thing on the list. I want to catch a “big bass” this year so my picture can be added to the fishing file, and I want to see sea turtles hatch. We checked off watching a sea turtle lay its eggs a few years ago so now it’s time to observe the hatchlings.

For years we’ve said we’ll catch the sunrise over the Atlantic followed by the sunset over the Gulf on the same day. That’s on the list for 2013 as well. We’re also planning a couple of camping weekends in Florida parks and one in Bryson City, NC. It’s been two years since we’ve visited western North Carolina where we first met so it’s time for a long weekend.

Biking, kayaking, and boating trips at new destinations in the state made the list. And we’re planning special celebrations for the Fourth of July and Christmas.

It wasn’t easy squeezing 13 adventures in to a calendar already packed with responsibilities for work, an August family weekend, a wedding, and holidays; but we did it. I’m looking forward to “13 in 13”!

Sunset at Cedar Key - the perfect finale.
Sunset at Cedar Key – the perfect finale.