Turtle Talk: The Eagle has Landed
WE HAVE TURTLE NESTS!
Seventeen turtle nests, to be exact. Seventeen as of early June 2015 in South Walton county, and we are finding more every day. Wow.
You might be asking if I have personally found any. Well….no. I’ve been out of town for a few weeks, so my fellow beach walkers have had the privilege of discovering the early-morning tracks that lead to the nests. I have seen some of the tracks and the nests. And…wow. It is simply awesome.
The South Walton Turtle Watch coordinator for my specific stretch of beach texts me when there’s a new nest discovered. I got a text a couple of mornings ago (at 5:50 a.m., to be exact) to come see a new nest near Alys Beach. Off I went in my ponytail and flip-flops, and….wow.
The tracks that lead from the water’s edge could easily be mistaken for someone dragging a cooler. The middle part of the track is smooth and flat. That’s where mama turtle’s shell is dragging along the sand. On either side of this smooth trail are her flipper marks. These look sort of like a deeply-treaded tire. Like a small tractor track.
From up high on the beach access stairs, the tracks are easy to identify. But down on ground level, they could be mistaken for something else. Like maybe someone pulled a cooler or beach chairs up from the shore line, or a beach vendor was dragging a stack of lounge chairs.
The other thing I hadn’t really pictured in my mind was that mama turtle leaves two sets of tracks: one coming from the water and one going back in. Sometimes these two trails are close together. The nest I saw had her crawls so close together and parallel that they looked like a vehicle had made them. But sometimes the two crawls (coming and going) make more of a V shape.
Here are the tracks I saw near Alys Beach:
These tracks disappear pretty quickly. Usually by the time beach goers set up on the beach and the Walton County service vehicles do their patrol, the tracks have blended into the sand. Weather also makes them difficult to see after a day or so. But if you see neon tape around four thin stakes in the sand, typically near the dune line and sea oats, look around for any leftover signs of tracks. That tape marks the spot where the sea turtle eggs are. Turtle walkers also keep an eye on these existing nests to make sure there are no signs of disturbance where the mama has buried her eggs.
Now that I’ve seen an actual turtle crawl in person, I will know exactly what to look for.
Another brand new turtle-walker found TWO nest yesterday…both in my assigned stretch of beach. But I walk on Thursdays.
I ask you, is that fair?
I’m thrilled for him that he found the nests, but TWO? Come on, dude. Share the joy.
Keep your fingers crossed for me that I get to experience the sheer joy of discovering a brand new nest this season. I’ll be looking all summer. And if I find one, you’ll be the first to know.
By Elaine Parrett
Keep up with new nests as they are found on the South Walton Turtle Watch website.
For details on keeping sea turtles safe, follow Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles on Facebook.