The Escambia County Sea Turtle Conservation Program conducts daily sea turtle nesting surveys from May 1 through October 31. The beaches of Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key are covered.
Daily surveys ensure any nests laid in the night are protected and marked, allowing normal beach activities to continue. During the morning surveys, the location, species and number of eggs for each nest is identified and recorded. A secure marking device is placed at all nest sites, and a clearly marked buffer prevents foot traffic around the nest. False crawls, or where a female crawls ashore but fails to dig a nest, are also recorded.
Surveyors continue to check on nests during the incubation period, ensuring they remain undisturbed. When a nest’s predicted hatching time draws nearer, volunteers will often “babysit” a nest to make sure hatchlings are not disturbed or disoriented. After the emergence of hatchlings, the nests are excavated to determine number of hatched turtles. Live hatchlings found in inventoried nests or disorientation events are released at appropriate times and locations to ensure maximum survival of released turtles.
Why Do Sea Turtles Matter?
Sea turtles play a big role in maintaining healthy ecosystems both in and out of the water.
On the beach, sea turtle eggs provide valuable nutrients to animals and plants. Leftover eggshells and unhatched eggs promote vegetation growth, creating stronger and more resilient sand dunes. These dunes strengthen our barrier islands, protecting our inland water ways from wave action and storms. Eggs are also a food source for many predators, including crabs, raccoons and birds.
A sea turtle’s diet plays a big role in the marine environment. Loggerheads’ love of crustaceans and shellfish help to cycle nutrients, their strong jaws grinding down tough shells and exterior skeletons. Green sea turtles graze primarily on sea grass and algae, maintaining these vital ecosystems and providing habitat for hundreds of species.
All sea turtles accumulate barnacles and algae on their shells over their lifetimes— not only providing a home to these organisms but a source of food for fish and shrimp.