Protect Our Beaches: A Guide to Marine Conservation
Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches continue to attract visitors from around the world to its gorgeous ocean and cinnamon-colored sand. But did you know it’s also home to some of the most important marine life and vegetation? Unbeknownst to beachgoers, their presence can be very damaging to the natural ecosystem of the area. However, your beach visit doesn’t have to be. From being mindful of your waste to following the guidelines on respecting the private space of nesting sea turtles to volunteering at a local rehabilitation lab for turtles, here’s how you can play a role in improving and protecting the beach and its true residents.
Why Are Sand Dunes Important?
The first step toward protecting the planet is to understand why it’s important. Sea dunes are crucial to the marine ecosystem as they act as a barrier to invasive foreign objects from entering the ocean, plus they keep coastal waters from flooding inland during high-energy storms. The importance of sea dunes is often overlooked and damaged by beachgoers that trample or drive over them. Without our sea dunes, we would see more erosion and a wealth of wildlife like birds and insects would lose their homes.
Show You Care, Use the Stairs
When visiting a public beach, you’ll see elevated wooden stairs and boardwalks that carry you directly above the sea dunes. Show your support of the sea dunes and wildlife by using stairs to access the beach instead of walking through the grassy landscape. When crossing over the sea dunes using the stairs, be mindful of your waste and do not dispose your trash or items on the dunes. Parents are asked to teach their kids the importance of staying off the greenery at the beach and to make sure they do not play in the vegetation. Dog owners are instructed to do the same with their pets and keep them off the sea dunes. Beachgoers often drive their cars off the side of the road and park their cars on the grass. When planning a beach trip, please follow the guidelines and park in designated parking spaces and the free public parking lots and not on anything green. Anybody caught parking on the grass will be fined up to $500. Keep in mind, the sea dunes are extremely fragile and it takes very little effort (as few as 10 steps!) to completely destroy them.
It’s Turtle Nesting Season
Beachgoers love to visit the area year-round thanks to Flagler Beaches’ gorgeous and natural landscape and glimmering sea. But the Flagler Beach area has another unique natural marvel—its sea turtles. May 1 through Oct. 31 is considered sea turtle nesting season, which means certain parts of the beaches are restricted from the public to protect the eggs. During nesting season, multiple activities like campfires and bonfires are strictly prohibited at the beach. The eggs are delicate, and approximately 40,000 to 84,000 sea turtle eggs are laid along the coastline of Florida every year. However, despite the amount of eggs laid, statistically only one out of 1,000 hatching sea turtles will successfully survive to adulthood. For female sea turtles, it takes a total of 15 to 50 years before she can reproduce. The turtles spend almost their entire life at sea and can only be spotted on land when the females come ashore to lay their eggs.
The Flagler Turtle Patrol is a local nonprofit organization with the sole purpose of protecting the sea turtles and their eggs. The organization patrols all 19 miles of beaches in Flagler County, and when a nesting area is spotted, they plant stakes with ribbons to ward off beachgoers from getting too close. The ribbons come in various colors to determine the time frame the nests have been laid. Pink ribbons indicate May; June is blue; July is orange; and August is green. This allows the Turtle Patrol to predict hatching time. It’s illegal for beachgoers to inspect or disturb the nests. For a chance to witness a sea turtle nest cleaning, be sure to follow the Flagler Turtle Patrol’s Facebook page for announcements and if you’re lucky enough, you will get to see these adorable little creatures scurry back towards the ocean.
A variety of sea turtles are known to frequent the coast of Flagler Beaches including endangered loggerhead turtles (also the most common found at the beach). They can be identified by their block like heads and strong jaws. Other types of turtles found in the local beaches include leatherbacks (leathery-looking shells reaching 7 feet in length), green turtles (found eating sea grasses and algae) and hawksbills (heart-shaped shells). The extremely rare and most endangered sea turtle in the world, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, can also be found on the beach occasionally.
See the Sea Turtles
If you want a guaranteed opportunity to see the sea turtles up close, visit Marineland Dolphin Adventure or sign up for a tour at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience along the scenic A1A Highway. Injured and sick sea turtles found along the coast are brought to the hospital for recovery. Visitors are welcome to admire the recovering turtles in the rehab facility. There, nature enthusiasts will learn all about the sea turtles’ temperament, diet and biology. Visitors will also learn about common injuries and how humans can prevent further harm (including not disposing trash into the ocean, avoiding boat strikes and not interacting with them). Once the sea turtles are completely recovered, they are released back into the ocean with a satellite transmitter attached to their shells for scientists to monitor their wellbeing in the sea. Whitney Laboratory welcomes any donations and volunteers for the Sea Turtle Research and Rehabilitation Fund.
Other Ways to Help
Another way you can play your part in protecting the sea turtles is to pick up after yourself during your beach trip. This means leaving absolutely nothing behind when packing up to leave. Take your umbrellas, chairs, coolers and trash with you. It’s common for sea turtles to mistake the trash (including plastic) for food. Families playing in the sand or building sandcastles should be sure to level the sand by filling in any holes or flattening the sandcastles afterward. Turtles often fall in the holes left behind by beachgoers and become injured and/or stranded. When exploring gift shops, avoid purchasing any items made from sea turtles or any other endangered species. The more tourists buy them, the more demand is created for sea turtles to be illegally harvested. When visiting Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches, you will quickly see that we are community that takes conservation and protecting our marine life to heart and hope our visitors do to!