Happy May, Ya’ll!
May 1st through October 31st, the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico welcomes its’ favorite seasonal residents back home; Sea Turtles!
St George Island is no exception and we LOVE our turtles! With that said…let’s talk turtle!!
There are seven species of sea turtles most of which call our beaches ‘home’ and return to nest in the soft white sand. During the night, momma laboriously crawls from the water, finds a satisfactory nest site and prepares to dig. Using front flippers, she digs out a hole then moves forward to lay her eggs (50 to 100+ depending on species). Momma covers them with her back flippers after which, even though exhausted from digging and egg laying, she makes the enormous trek back to the water. This whole process can take over an hour! Sea turtles do not reach maturity until they are approx 10 years old. Once a mature female starts reproducing, she will nest several times in a season in different areas. Unfortunately, this occurs as seldom as every other year to every five years depending on species. Although sea turtles lay a large number of eggs, there are very few hatchlings that survive to reach full maturity. Further depletion of numbers has been the fault of humans: pollution, poaching, net fishing, and loss of coastal habitat. Six of the seven species of sea turtles are now on the endangered list.
Here on SGI, our residents and visitors volunteer to patrol the beaches daily to monitor nesting, and of course, the subsequent hatching activity. Any beach visitor should be alerted to a new nest site by the unique crawl pattern as shown in the accompanying photos. There is an 800 number to call and trained turtlers will arrive to record specific information regarding nest size, type, location, and calculate hatching date once they have verified there are viable eggs. The nest is then covered with wire mesh and staked with bright pink or yellow signage. The mesh keeps out the digging predators such as our visiting dogs or the raccoons that have made their way to the island. Holes in the wire mesh are large enough to allow hatchlings to escape. The stakes and signage notify our human visitors that a nest is present and that wide berth should be given the nest. It is a Federal Offense to disturb the nest!
Visitors to St George Island love the uncrowded, seemingly endless white sand beaches. But, we do share these beaches with their original habitants and request that you respect their environment. During nesting & hatchling season we ask simply to leave the beach dark, clean, and flat. This means 1) no bright lights at night from houses, fires or flashlights that would disturb Momma or disorient hatchlings. 2) no holes dug into the beach that could harm or entrap Momma or babies. 3) no beach gear left out overnight to get in their way! Once a nest has been identified and marked, please give it space! There is truly enough space for all humans without piling beach gear in front of a nest or setting up beach activities 5ft away!
We hope our visitors take time to learn about these amazing creatures and get as excited as we do about helping to ensure their survival! One of our most memorable visits to the island included the thrill of witnessing a rare evening nesting! Cat & I sat quietly on a towel a few yards from Momma and watched enthralled as she nested and returned to the water. We have since met decades long residents of the island who have yet to actually witness a nesting in progress! (Nature is amazing to me and this was a pinnacle moment!)
So…please remember: Lights out at night and keep the beaches “clean, flat, and dark”
Happy Sea Turtle watching!