Amanda E. Battles
Navy Public Affairs Support Element East Detachment Southeast
As the sun's rays lifted above the calm ocean waters, more than ten members from the Naval Station (NAVSTA) Mayport's Sea Turtle Patrol Team, gathered together at the north end of the base's beach to inventory and monitor three sea turtle nests.
During nesting season, which runs from May to October 31, female Loggerheads, Leatherbacks and Green Sea Turtles crawl up on the NAVSTA Mayport sandy beaches, dig a hole and deposit approximately 80 to 130 eggs. Once eggs are buried and nests are camouflaged, the turtle returns to the ocean.
According to Heather Hahn, NAVSTA Mayport Public Works Department natural resources program manager, sea turtle eggs have an incubation period of about two months. Once hatchlings crack open their eggs, they use their natural instinct to move towards the brightest direction, which is usually the light of the horizon above the sea. Artificial lights, such as flashlights or streetlights, may disorient the sea turtles and lead them away from the ocean, resulting in their deaths.
Seventy-two hours after nests begin to hatch, inventories are conducted to monitor the hatchlings success rate. This is determined when little tracks are spotted in sand leading from nests to the ocean.
"The inventory procedures are important because all of the sea turtles are threatened or endangered," said Hahn. "Every year we take an inventory of what has successfully hatched of the three species that nest on our beaches. We send the information over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Services and they keep count. We measure success of turtle nesting based on hatching rates since it is difficult to track the sea turtles once they reach the ocean."
Every morning during the nesting season, volunteers led by Myranda Parker, NAVSTA Mayport natural resources intern, walk down the stretch of beach at NAVSTA Mayport, to locate and monitor sea turtle nests.
"The volunteers are super helpful," said Parker. "We come out here every day at 6 a.m., even on the weekends. We walk two miles across the beach to mark all the nests. We would not be able to get it done without them."
During the inventory process, the patrol team discovered three hatchlings in their nest that hadn't made it to the ocean yet. This provided the team with a unique experience to observe the baby sea turtles.
"We were able to see the hatchlings up close, and not everyone has the opportunity to do that, and living in Florida, this is as good as it will get," said Parker.
Lindsay Barnett, a NAVSTA Mayport Sea Turtle Patrol Team volunteer, said her highpoint was observing the baby turtles. "This is my first year volunteering, and I will definitely do this again. The highlight for me today was seeing the hatchlings and watching them make it to the ocean."
According to federal and state laws, it's illegal to touch sea turtles without an authorized permit.
If a turtle is spotted out of the water along the shoreline at NAVSTA Mayport during the hours of 6 a.m. - 2 p.m., immediately contact the NAVSTA Mayport Environmental Public Works Department at 904-270-3192 and after working hours call 904-509-6842.