Over the last 25 years the number of sea turtle nests in Escambia County has varied from 9 in 2007 to a 74 in 2012 and has averaged around 32 each season. During the 1990’s nesting activity was increasing from a decade earlier. The number of nests ranged from 25-51 and averaged 32 each year. This was good news and suggested that conservation efforts to protect the endangered species were working. However between 2000 and 2010 nesting declined with an average of 27 nests each year and a record low of only 9 in 2007. You have to remember that from 2004 to 2006 the state experienced a record number of hurricanes and this probably contributed to the infrequent nesting. Since 2010 we have had high numbers with 69 nests in 2011 and 74 in 2012! Things are looking good for the nesting turtles of Northwest Florida.
But there is still cause for concern. Though we are having record numbers of nesting females. The disorientation of emerging hatchlings has been between 40-50% of the nests. In 2011 50% of the nests in our county showed disorientation after hatching and last season 55% of those did. If the young do not make it to the Gulf, they will not return to reproduce in the future. The proposed county lighting ordinance will help to reduce this problem. But as we enter July and the hatching of current nests begins we encourage local residents and visiting friends to practice a few good practices to try and increase the number of hatchlings that reach the Gulf this season.
1) Outdoor lighting – turtles have trouble seeing light in the longer wavelengths (reds and yellows). Having amber or yellow outdoor lighting that is low to the ground and shielded allows you to see where you are walking but does not distract or disorient hatchlings trying to find the Gulf.
2) Indoor lighting – many properties on Pensacola Beach have low wattage yellow or amber outdoor lighting but still pose a problem because their indoor lighting can be seen from the beach. In the evenings please consider closing the drapes so that the bright lights do not reach the beach.
3) Beach Barriers – there are variety of objects we leave on the beach overnight that can block or entrap turtles. Chairs, umbrellas, tents, and even deep holes have caused problems. Please fill the holes and bring in the chairs for the evening.
4) Pets – please do not allow your pets to run the beach. It is against county code and we do offer two dog beach locations where they can enjoy the water. Dogs must be on a leash and the parks are only open certain hours but this is best for the pets, the people, and the turtles.
5) Remove your trash – everyone knows that plastic bags and fishing line cause a problem not only for sea turtles but many other forms of marine life. Please dispose of your plastic waste properly.
If you encounter a sea turtle while at the beach please call the Gulf Islands National Seashore dispatcher at 850-916-3010 to let them know. These are federally protected animals and you are not allowed to disturb them.
For more information on sea turtles and their nesting activities in our county visit the county extension website at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/escambiaco or contact Rick O’Connor at 850-475-5230.