Turtles are a federally and state protected species.
Turtle season has begun with four Kemp’s Ridley turtles laying nests on Volusia beaches.
“We have three different mothers,” Beth Libert, president of the Volusia County Turtle Patrol, said. “One has laid two nests.”
Kemp’s Ridley turtles are the only turtles that typically nest during the day, though Libert said there have also been four “confused” loggerhead turtles who have also come ashore during the day to nest.
The Volusia Turtle Patrol volunteers have two patrol areas; the North Patrol that checks the beach from Sun Splash Park in Daytona Beach to North Peninsula State Recreation Area in Ormond-by-the-Sea, and the South Patrol that checks from Ponce Inlet to Sun Splash.
Driving white trucks with the Volusia County seal on the door, the volunteers scan the beach every morning for turtle tracks, evidence that a turtle has come ashore during the night to lay her eggs.
“It’s looking like an average year for nesting,” said Jennifer Winters, Volusia County’s sea turtle habitat conservation plan manager, said in an e-mail.
As of the end of June the North Patrol had recorded 106 nests, down from 200 this time last year. The South Patrol recorded 84 nests, up from 56 this time last year.
“We have the four Kemp’s Ridley, three green turtle nests and the rest are loggerheads,” Libert said.
So far the largest of the turtles, the leatherback has not made an appearance.
Libert said the nesting numbers aren’t a concern, especially since the turtles started nesting later than last year.
“Last year was a bang up year. They came in early, laid hard and heavy, laid high, and stopped early,” she said.
In fact, most of the nests had already hatched by the beginning of October leaving few for Hurricane Matthew to destroy on Oct. 8.
There has been discussion about dune walkover replacements and dune restoration during turtle season. With the exception of an emergency permit in Flagler Beach where State Road A1A was washed away, turtle nests will not be moved.
Currently there are no permits in Volusia to replace the remaining walkovers.
While this protects the turtles in one respect, residents and tourists making their own paths through dunes for beach access are causing additional dune damage during rains, and can be a hazard to hatching turtles.
“Turtles are pretty good climbers and they could go toward the road,” Libert said.
She knew of one area in Ormond-by-the-Sea where the dunes had been renourished and individuals had dug through the mesh, intended to hold the dunes together, in order to make a path to the beach. Signs, netting and survey sticks intended to discourage people from accessing the beach through the dunes are being ignored.
Libert asks that people consider what they are risking, not only the turtles but their homes, and find an open walkover to the beach. Recent hard rains have washed out areas around these make-shift crossovers.
With the number of Kemp Ridley turtles so far, she also asks that if anyone sees a turtle on the beach during the day to contact beach patrol immediately.
“It might be a Kemp’s Ridley and we definitely want to know about any daytime hatch,” she said.