How many times have you walked along one of our local beaches and stumbled upon a roped off area alerting you of sea turtle nesting in progress? Those don’t just appear overnight.
We have a local task force that takes care to protect the sea turtle population and tirelessly scours the beaches to find their nesting places. In our area, many of these excursions are led by Scott Eastman, founder of Eastman Environmental.
As part of his post-baccalaureate studies at UNF, Scott took courses including marine biology, ecology, and advanced herpetology. He has always been passionate about surfing, the ocean, and ocean conservation and meeting his now wife Cat on a Boca Raton beach was a catalyst for his current environmental initiatives. While living in South Florida, Cat was already working closely with sea turtle conservation and now works as the Program Director of the Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory in Marineland.
Sea turtle nesting season in northeast Florida is federally designated as spanning May 1-Oct 31. So seven days a week during this time, volunteers start on the beach 30 minutes before sunrise, conducting surveys by ATV or on foot – sometimes walking upwards of two and a half miles in search of clues that shed light on what transpired the night before.
“We kind of call it CSI,” says Scott. Turtle tracks reveal which species were present and whether false crawls occurred. “Sometimes the turtle will come out of the ocean, be deterred by something […] and they turn back around and go back into the ocean,” explains Scott, “That’s what we would consider a false crawl.”
Hatchlings are studied to document whether nests were impacted by high tide, fire ants, coyotes, or issues such as lighting and obstacles on the beach. If you want to put your CSI hat on and participate in a beach survey, you might have to take a number. “We have so many individuals that want to be on the beach, it’s hard to get a spot out there,” says Scott, who oversees about 60 volunteers and 25 miles of coastline.
Currently the Loggerhead, Atlantic Green, and Leatherback are classified as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When interacting with the media, Scott is often asked how the public benefits from efforts to protect the sea turtle population. “Beaches that are good for sea turtle nesting […] are also good […] for beach goers,” Scott says. This stands to reason – when locals and tourists visit our beautiful beaches, minimal pollution and obstruction are desirable.
But even if you’re not up to roaming the beaches at the crack of dawn, as a community, we can do a number of things to help protect our sea turtle population. Not digging holes on the beach is important as turtles who fall in these holes can become injured. We can also avoid leaving belongings on the beach overnight as these can entrap nesting females. Minimizing use of artificial lighting such as flashlights can prevent sea turtles from becoming disoriented during nesting. Lastly, local examinations of deceased infant sea turtles have discovered ingested plastic in about 90% of subjects. We can help stop the damage.