Turtle Talk: Walk the Walk

Well, I did it.

I’ve been talking the talk, and now I can say I have walked the walk.

When I first heard about the new Friends of South Walton Sea Turtle group, I was excited to lend a hand. This group focuses on education and awareness about sea turtles and other sea life in our area.

I’ve had a love of turtles, land and sea, since my college days. My sorority’s mascot was a turtle, so I collected turtles for years. I’ve had turtle planters, soap, whatnots, mugs, jewelry, purses…you get the picture.

When I moved to South Walton about nine years ago, I found out about South Walton Turtle Watch. This group has been around for about 20 years, and their focus is on the actual daily protection of the turtles. This is the group that organizes volunteers who walk the beaches every morning during turtle season in order to find nests and mark them off for safety. They also are on hand to relocated nests that might be at risk during storms, and they often help disoriented hatchlings to the water.

I have envied these walkers the whole time I’ve lived here. But as a teacher, my day started so early that I never had time to walk the beach and make it to school on time. So when I saw the new Friends group was forming, I thought that would be a perfect fit. I could help the turtles from the comfort of my own home -or at events that fit my schedule like the Earth Day Celebration at the E.O. Biophilia Center in Freeport where my #shellfie above with Shelly was taken at our education booth.

Talking the talk, you might say.

Then I found myself semi-retired.  The Friends group thought it would be awesome for a couple of the educators and blog writers to take part in all aspects of turtle conservancy. We could put all of our experiences and findings to good use in our education materials. My hand went up in a flash.

I became a Turtle Walker. Woo hoo!

Sea turtle season here along Highway 30A runs from about May to October. Female sea turtles start coming ashore to nest, so the volunteer walkers start combing the beaches on May 1. This year, a nest has already been found in neighboring Bay County, so the Walton County walkers started hitting the beaches last week.

In Walton County, the turtle walkers divide the beaches into several 1 to 2-mile sections. Staff assign volunteers a section and certain days of the week to cover that section. We have to be out at the crack of dawn in order to beat the beach goers, chair vendors, and county vehicles who could all make it hard to tell where a nest might have been made during the night.

We look for turtle crawls. A crawl looks a little like tire tracks coming from the Gulf. Once we determine a crawl and the location of the nest, we mark it with flags and call a supervisor who will come and evaluate the type of turtle, take measurements, and secure the area with wooden stakes and warning signs.

I’ll admit that I groaned when my alarm blared at 5:15 AM this past Friday. But being out there to watch the sunrise over the water…well, that was a nice bonus. It’s so peaceful and calm that early, before the hustle and bustle of beach life starts.  Who knew?

I didn’t find a nest, but it’s still early in the season.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, and I’ll keep you posted.

By Elaine Parrett

*Our turtle ambassador Shelly will be taking pictures at some of the new nests as we find them. Look for her on our Instagram (@30aseaturtles), Facebook (Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles). and Twitter (SoWal Sea Turtles) pages and if you see her out and about, ask for your own #shellfie with her!