ORANGE BEACH, Ala. (WKRG) – Endangered sea turtles depend on our beaches to survive during one of the most crucial points in their lives…summer nesting season. One organization, known as Share The Beach, works hard to help maintain the sea turtle population by making sure nesting and hatching sea is a success for these shelled creatures.
Share The Beach has over 500 volunteers, and they walk all 48 miles of Alabama’s beaches every early morning looking for signs of new nesting. “Our goal is to mark and monitor all Alabama sea turtle nests, “ Sara Johnson, the director for Share The Beach said, “[This is] so we’re able to watch them through incubation and protect them from human development and human impacts on nesting beaches.”
Three species of sea turtles nest on our local beaches. Loggerheads are the primary nesters, but occasionally we’ll see a nest belonging to a Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle or Green Sea Turtle. Maintaining the sea turtle population is important, as they play a vital role in the health of grass beds and coral reefs.
We took a walk with Sara and a few volunteers to see what signs they look for when it comes to new nests. This includes looking for “crawls” or tracks in the sand from where a turtle may have dragged herself on shore.
We didn’t find any new nests on this trip, but we did see one the organization is watching closely for signs of hatching. Incubation for sea turtle eggs is about two months. Nests like these should not be disturbed, as they are protected under the endangered species act.
Share The Beach also works to educate the public about what they can do to help the turtles out. Sara says that if you come across a sea turtle that’s coming onshore to nest, the best thing to do is stay back (about 30 feet or more), as getting too close can stress out the momma turtle and endanger her babies. “Just enjoy the experience. Let her nest in peace and enjoy being out there.”
She advises to use red lights instead of white lights if walking the beaches at night, and keep artificial lights off of the turtles, as they use the natural light from the moon to help guide them back to the water.
Keeping the beach clean is also important. Pick up trash, fill up sand holes and flatten sand castles before you leave. These obstacles can pose hazards for sea turtles that make their way on shore. “We like to say ‘Leave only footprints.’ So if you come onto the beach, don’t leave any trace that there was even a human there,” Sara said.
Right now, volunteers are only walking the beaches in the early morning, but as soon as some of these nests get close to hatching, they will start walking during the evening hours as well.
Another great local organization working hard and playing their part to help Grow The Gulf Coast.
For more information about the organization and volunteer opportunities you can visit the Alabama Coastal Foundation website.