Sea Turtles and “Leave No Trace”
In August of 2015 the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners adopted a new ordinance to address the issue of chairs, tents, coolers, and other debris left on the beach overnight. The issue with these items is that they impede sea turtle nesting and are a hazard for maintenance and safety crews working the beach at night; as well as blocking some access to public locations.
A study published in 2011 found that chairs, tents, and other items did not always stop female turtles from nesting but they did nest closer to the water; increasing their chances of flooding from surf, impacts of beach vehicles, and impacts from recreational activities near the beach. There are several reports of females becoming entrapped in benches, chairs, and tents – some even washing ashore dead with the item still connected to them. Communities not addressing the situation could be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Each year turtle watch volunteers from around the state encounter female and hatchling turtles who have to alter their behavior, or have died, due to items left on the beach overnight.
What the new county ordinance states is that any item left on the beach between sunset and sunrise will become county property and will be removed. Businesses can relocate items within 20 feet of the toe of the primary dune line, but cannot not disturb native vegetation or a sea turtle nest. If they stack their benches near the dunes they must do so with the smallest area of the bench facing the Gulf and stacks must be at least 50 feet apart. If the item is too large to be moved each night they must be phased out by January 1, 2018.
For private home owners, items must be brought up to the house/condo or, as with businesses, 20 feet from the toe of the primary dune line. The stored items cannot be on native vegetation, impede turtle nesting, or block public access to the beach. Private homeowners can store items under their walkovers.
There are exemptions to this ordinance. County permitted structures (such as boardwalks, decks, etc.), life guard safety equipment and stands, any government issued item (such as a sign or structure), and any item being used by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife permitted group for turtle research or monitoring activity can remain on the beach overnight.