Citizens Team Up to Protect Turtle Nests

Dec 3, 2019 | Apalachicola, Florida, Reserves, What We Work For

Apalachicola Reserve stewardship staff inspects a loggerhead turtle nest on McKissack Beach, accompanied by citizen volunteers who monitored the nests throughout incubation. Photo courtesy of John Walls.

Historically, Florida’s McKissack beach is popular with locals and visitors, but not with nesting sea turtles. So when local residents found two loggerhead turtle nests, they alerted the staff at the nearby Apalachicola Reserve. Now keeping an eye on the turtle eggs has become a priority for both them and the Reserve.

 “As a volunteer with Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Commission and the Audubon society, I help monitor the birds and everything connected to our beach,” says Belinda Wharton, who found one of the nests. “The turtles are part of that ecosystem so checking on them just became another part of my daily routine.”

Loggerheads are a threatened species monitored annually by permitted surveyors across Florida. The permit for McKissack beach is held by Reserve stewardship staff who help collect data on turtle nesting and help manage the area for successful hatching. Since 1996 there have been only five observed loggerhead nests in the McKissack beach area. To protect the new nests, Reserve staff installed Fish & Wildlife Commission turtle signs and self-releasing wire screens.

Wharton and other volunteers checked the nests daily for signs of predation or other disturbance. Like Wharton, the other volunteers are residents of the city of Carrabelle. For them, the beautiful intertidal marshes, beaches, and dunes of McKissack are places for walking, exercise, photography, wildlife viewing, and increasingly, getting involved in protecting what they value. Some are part of a shorebird conservation effort, and many are involved in the International Coastal Cleanup that takes place every September. Some even have initiated their own post-hurricane debris cleanups. And often, the Apalachicola Reserve is there to help.

ANERR’s stewardship coordinator, Caitlin Snyder, discusses the turtle nests with a group of invested local citizens. Photo courtesy of John Walls.

“The Reserve supports conservation beyond our borders through education and outreach,”  says Caitlin Snyder, stewardship coordinator at the Apalachicola Reserve. “We visit the site, answer questions, and provide educational materials. We also promote collaborative conservation with diverse stakeholders by getting involved in management plans or advisory groups, such as the one being developed for the McKissack Beach property.”

Being part of forums like these helps the Reserve respond community needs. For example, while motor vehicles are not permitted on McKissack, residents noticed tire tracks near one the sea turtle nests. The Reserve worked with the residents and were a support agency as they successfully petitioned the City of Carrabelle to install posts and signage. Later they collaborated with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Audubon, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a kiosk to educate beach visitors about wildlife, conservation, and the ordinances in place to safeguard the area.

“The Apalachicola Reserve’s support not only makes a difference for turtles,” says Wharton, “but for the community that is so invested in them. The staff made a great impression on us; they were professional, educational, and friendly during the nest evaluation and throughout the process.”

From this effort, three eggs successfully hatched, which may seem low if you don’t consider the many factors that impact successful incubation. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings make it to adulthood. Every sea turtle nest matters against odds like that!

ReservesApalachicola, FloridaCitizens Team Up to Protect Turtle Nests