The Alabama Coastal Foundation (AFC), a major driver in the Leave Only Footprints campaign on Baldwin beaches, is funding a full-time biologist for the sea turtle advocate group Share the Beach.
“The addition this year is Dr. Elizabeth Bevan, who is the full-time biologist for Share the Beach and is now on staff to help,” AFC Director Mark Berte said. “ACF was able to hire Elizabeth this year due to Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement funds provided by the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group.”
More than 500 volunteers are needed to scour the beaches every morning May through October before sunrise looking for signs of nesting turtles. Opening Day was May 1 and nests have already been found on the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on May 20 and in Orange Beach on May 26.
This is the 17th year of the program headed up by “Turtle Czar” Mike Reynolds. It also includes the beaches of Dauphin Island in Mobile County.
“In 2017, Share the Beach documented over 170 nests in Alabama, our second-best nest count since the start of the program,” Reynolds said. The record for nests was the year before with 239 in 2016. Numbers for 2018 aren’t completed yet.
AFC played an instrumental role in getting the word out on Leave Only Footprints, leaving magnets and literature throughout condos and other accommodations to remind visitors of the rules. Besides seeing an uncluttered beach every morning, a clear path makes a big difference for nesting sea turtles.
“[Leave Only Footprints] is an excellent campaign because vacationers do not leave their items on the beach at night when female sea turtles come out of the Gulf to lay their eggs,” Berte said. “In the past, nesting sea turtles would have artificial barriers of tents, chairs and other obstacles placed by humans that would prohibit them from finding a suitable place to nest.”
Beach-service companies are still allowed to leave wooden loungers on the beaches overnight, but are required to reduce the number each year with a total phase-out of them in seven years.
“Visitors should have a great time when they are enjoying Alabama’s coastal environment and help do their part to protect it for future generations,” Berte said. “During sea turtle season, that means removing your items off the beach each night, filling in any holes you dig, turning off beach facing lights, using flashlights that are sea-turtle friendly and not disturbing turtle nests.”
Bevan said visitors can also help by calling in any sightings of turtles during their stay.
“If anyone sees a sea turtle, they should call our hotline,” Bevan said. “This means any sea turtle, be it an adult out in the water that is visibly injured or sick, a sea turtle that has washed onto the shore, a nesting female, hatchlings on the beach, disoriented turtles heading toward the road and even just bones of a sea turtle. It is not legal to take them home as souvenirs.”
The number to call is 866-Sea-Turtle (732-8878) and for more information about turtles or if you would like to help or donate to Share the Beach, visit alabamaseaturtles.com.
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