What is Sea Turtle Patrol?
Each morning from May through October, volunteers in Sea Turtle Patrol walk the Gulf of Mexico beaches looking for evidence of sea turtle activity. Volunteers walk a mile-long segment of beach, often in pairs, anywhere from 2 mornings to 7 mornings per week.
Early in the nesting season (May through September) they're looking for the tracks left by female sea turtles as they haul out of the water, and lumber up the sandy beach to dig in the sand and deposit a clutch of eggs. Turtles do this at night, so by dawn patrollers are looking for the tracks they left.
The sea turtle patroller's job is two-fold. One is to protect the nest. The other is to collect data. Nests are protected from humans inadvertently walking over them by staking an area around each nest with yellow posts and brightly colored tape. Sometimes they're protected from predation by raccoons, armadillos and even coyotes by placing cages or screens over the nests. These keep predators out but allow baby turtles to pass through unharmed.
For each nest, the patrollers fill out a page full of data, including where and when the nest was laid, what species of turtle laid the nest, if any protection was provided, if the turtle encountered any obstructions, etc.
About 2 months after each nest is laid, the patrollers watch carefully for signs of hatching and the tracks left by the babies as they head to sea. This gets noted on the data page. A few days later, they dig up the nest and count how many eggs hatched and how many went unhatched. If any babies are found stuck in the nest, they're released into the sea after dark. All this information gets recorded on the data sheet for this nest.
CWC Expectations for Turtle Patrol Volunteers
1. Membership in Coastal Wildlife Club should be added/kept current
2. Commitment for entire season: May – October
(note: short vacations ok)
3. Availability for minimum 2 days/week
(more especially during first year is best to gain experience)
4. Ability to walk on sand and withstand summer heat/humidity
5. Willingness to work within prescribed protocols and guidelines
(protocols set and required by FWC.
6. Willingness to be on the beach early (sunrise). Some activities are required to be completed by 9 a.m.
7. Willingness to pick up trash on patrol.
8. Ability to provide own transportation to and from assigned zone
(Note: supplies for data collection and nest marking provided)
A. Each spring, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Marine Turtle Research staff holds Nesting Beach Survey Workshops at various locations throughout Florida. Workshop attendance is required at least every 2 years. (Many CWC volunteers attend annually.) Volunteers may attend any of the scheduled workshops. There are no reservations, but attendees must sign in.
B. CWC holds a Patrol Orientation meeting in April at Lemon Bay Park in Englewood. Date and time TBA.
C. This is physical activity. You must be able to walk a mile on the beach, carry equipment, and to dig in the sand. Like the postman who delivers in all weather, turtle patrollers are on the beach in heat and rain- just not during thunderstorms.
Training Turtle Patrollers
Volunteers begin by walking the beach on patrol with an experienced person called a sea turtle permit holder. They watch and listen in a one-on-one or small group. Eventually, under the watchful eye of the sea turtle permit holder they begin to perform the various tasks. Then they are assigned to patrol with an experienced volunteer who continues on-the-job training. Often it's not until the second year of volunteering until a new volunteer is assigned a section of beach on their own.
Several times per year the Coastal Wildlife Club meets and goes over changes, protocol issues, and questions. These are often pizza parties or pot luck dinners that mix work & fun. It's also a way for the various volunteers to mix socially and get to know one another.
A 9 minute video about what our volunteers do while on patrol.