Turtle Talk: Your Mission, Should you Choose to Accept It

There was a TV show back in the 1970’s called Mission Impossible. Some of you younger folks might be more familiar with the movie series of the same name starring Tom Cruise. Either way, the premise is the same: an agent receives a secret mission, often via a recording. The agent has the choice to accept the mission or to go on his way. He always accepts it, no matter how impossible it may seem. There would be no show if he didn’t.

And, of course, on the show the missions are almost always accomplished. The word “impossible” is just to grab your attention. The mission I’m about to lay on you, dear readers, is definitely possible.

And it has to do with #cleandarkflat

Over the past few months, I’ve discussed keeping the Beaches of South Walton #cleandarkflat for everyone’s safety and enjoyment, as well as for sea turtle survival.

Clean – Take in your beach chairs and other supplies when you leave the beach, and dispose of all trash in the provided beach trash cans. Mama turtles and their babies can get stuck along their route to and from the water which can lead to tragedy.

Dark – If you are on the beach at night, avoid the use of any flashlights or cell phones. If you are staying in a house on the beach, be sure lights are turned off or angled down. Lights confuse baby hatchlings and can get them off course and into the mouths of predators.

Flat – Fill in those fun beach holes the kids dig in the sand, and knock down your sand sculptures before you leave for the day. All sea turtles, young and old, can be trapped in holes and sand castles. Then they are sitting ducks for crabs and gulls.

I’m sure that all you turtle lovers who have been reading this blog and following us on social media are already doing these things to keep the beaches clean, dark, and flat.

I’ve been preaching to the choir, as my dad sometimes says.

So now I’m passing on a new mission to you, and I hope you accept it:  Tell everyone you see about #cleandarkflat.

When you are at the beach, whether you’re a vacationer or a local, keep you eyes peeled for any possible dangers to sea turtles and other marine life.

If you see some kids digging a huge hole near their beach set up, mosey on over and start up a conversation with the adults and kids.  I’ve done this, and here’s the method that works for me:

ME: Wow! That’s an impressive hole! Did you kids do that by yourselves?

VISITORS: Yes! We’ve worked on it all day in the hot sun. It’s a mote for sea monsters! But mom and dad helped.

ME: That is one cool sea monster pit. You guys have worked hard on it, I can tell.


ME: You’re welcome. But guess what?  It’s sea turtle season here at the beach. That means that in the deep, dark night, mama turtles crawl out of the sea and have to use their little bitty flippers to go ALL the way up to the dunes to lay their eggs. Isn’t that cool?

VISITORS:  Um, I guess…

ME: And anything in their way can cause the mama turtle to get confused or scared. Like if she comes upon some beach chairs someone left on the beach, she might get stuck. If she were to crawl into this hole, she wouldn’t be able to get back out and she wouldn’t be able to lay her eggs. Last year, a 300-pound mama fell into a hole, just like this one, and it took 7 or 8 grown-ups to help her out. Her head was smooshed into the sand and she almost suffocated.

VISITORS: Oh, no. That’s awful.

ME: Yep. Here at the beach we have the slogan #cleandarkflat. The flat part has to do with holes. We ask that everyone has fun digging and playing in the sand, but when you leave, fill in your holes and knock down your castles to keep the turtles safe. Can you guys do that? To save the turtles?


ME: And the last favor I have of all of you, kids and adults, is to become beach ambassadors. Tell other folks up and down the beach just what I’ve told you. If we spread the word, it could save hundreds of turtles each year.

VISITORS: YAY! We are saving turtles! Thank you, lady, for being so wise and kind and beautiful.

Well, I kind of ad-libbed that last part, but you get the idea.  The Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles is dedicated to educating people about sea turtle safety, and this blog is only the starting point.

The rest is up to you. All of you. Spread the word and ask others to do the same. Do it in a nice way and you’ll get great results. Folks don’t leave their beach sculptures and holes to hurt turtles on purpose. They leave them because they are proud of them and maybe in a hurry to leave the beach. But if they know the consequences, I’m sure they’ll be glad to leave the beach the way they found it: #cleandarkflat

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By Elaine Parrett