By Lorraine Thompson
Slowly but surely endangered and protected sea turtles are making their way to St. JohnsÂ County beaches. With only 12 nests reported as of May 23, the number is expected to pick up inÂ coming weeks.
A year ago at this time there were 27 nests counted and by the end of the nestingÂ season more than 750 nests had been monitored.
The north beaches currently have 7 nests including 6 loggerheads and one leatherback.Â There are 5 loggerhead nests on Anastasia Island and no nests yet at Matanzas Inlet South. TheÂ season runs May 1 through October 31 or until the last nest has hatched.
The mother turtlesÂ arrive at night, drag their huge bodies to the dunes areas, dig their nests, deposit their eggs, andÂ then disappear back into the ocean.
The most common endangered turtles to visit St. Johns County beaches are the GreenÂ Turtle and the Leatherback Turtle. Although the Loggerhead Turtle is by far the most commonÂ sea turtle in Florida it is classified as a threatened, but is not endangered species.
Biologists predict that only one turtle for every one thousand that hatch will survive toÂ the age of 20 when they typically return to the beach to nest.
St. Johns County Beach Services remind residents and visitors of beach restrictionsÂ and ways to help protect the habitat of nesting sea turtles in accordance with the HabitatÂ Conservation Plan, a 20-year agreement between St. Johns County and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
- Public vehicular access to authorized beaches begins each day at 8 a.m. and end at 7:30Â p.m. St. Johns Sheriff Deputies, St. Augustine Beach Police, and Beach Services will startÂ directing autos off the beaches as early as 6:30 p.m. Ramp gates will be locked at 7:30 p.m.
- During the sea turtle nesting season, beach lighting will be monitored to assure thatÂ residents and businesses are in compliance with the countyâ€™s Beach Lighting Code. AllÂ beachfront properties are required to eliminate non-compliant interior and exterior lights thatÂ are visible from the beach. Those who walk the beach at night should reduce their use of brightÂ white flashlights which may interfere with nesting activities, and cover the light with a red filter.Â If you encounter a sea turtle attempting to nest, maintain a safe distance so you do not disturb
- The law prohibits leaving chairs, tents and objects on the beaches overnight. LawÂ enforcement officers are authorized to remove the items.
- Those who encounter an injured, sick or dead sea turtle should call the St. Johns County Â Sheriffâ€™s dispatch at 904-824-8304.
For more information, call St. Johns County HabitatÂ Conservation and Beach Management at 904-209-3740 or go to www.sjcfl.us/hcp.