1 May 1999

Turtles Head Back to Beach

Today is a special day along the coast of Central Florida, the beginning of sea-turtle nesting sea. In Volusia county, it means officials must chase vehicles from the beach by 7pm. Many coastal residents will have to turn off or dim seaward-facing lights. But there's a select few who look to today as eagerly as baseball fans anticipate opening day. At daybreak each day during the next six months, these two dozen dedicated few will comb more than 35 miles of beach in search of sea-turtle activity. They look for signs of nesting, the telltale tracks left by the cold-blooded visitors who bury their clutch of about 100 eggs overnight to bake in the summer sands.

Then, in the next two months or so, the volunteers ,monitor the nests like nervous mothers, waiting for proof that the hatchlings have emerged and made a successful trek back to the sea. This volunteer work has been going on for years. Beth Libert and Marye Marshall, the leaders of the two groups that patrol Volusia beaches north and south of Ponce de Leon Inlet, have each been looking out for turtles in their area of the county since the early '80s. It's only in the past few years that the actions gained notice. In the wake of the 1995 filing of a federal lawsuit that sought to remove cars from the beaches and dim coastal lights as ways to protect turtles, Volusia County got a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It allows beach driving to continue in exchange for more sea-turtle protection measures.

Careful monitoring of sea-turtle activity is a key requirement of the permit == information that already was being collected by Libert's Volusia Turtle Patrol, north of the inlet, and Marshall's Volusia Sea Turtle Society to the south. Volusia is weighing the business community's need for beachfront lighting against the threat it poses to nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.

Biologists say bright artificial lights along the beach can frighten away nesting mothers. The lights are harmful to hatchlings, too. Bright street lamps or porch lights can confuse the babies, leading them away from the glow of the ocean, often to their deaths.
Article from Orlando Online: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/050199_turt01_19.htm

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