Holes dug into the sand at the beach present a threat to sea turtles. But this couple hopes kids will use their shovels to fill in those holes.
SANTA ROSA BEACH — A Walton County couple is hoping to help sea turtles one filled hole at a time.
According to Sue Campbell and Don Emond, beach shovels sold at the Santa Rosa Beach Walmart feature the slogan "Save Sea Turtles. Fill in Holes."
The married couple, who said they were in their fourth year volunteering for South Walton Turtle Watch, said it was the second year the South Walton location has used the slogan and that the customized shovels were also sold at the Destin Walmart last year.
Walmart officials, however, were unable to comment due to a lack of corporate permission.
The pair said that about three years ago, they presented the local Walmarts with their idea of incorporating a printed reminder. Their hope was to prevent sea turtles from getting trapped or killed by unfilled holes while coming ashore to nest.
Emond said the idea stemmed from many early mornings spent walking the beach, filling in holes along the way.
"It just seemed like a never-ending task," he said.
Emond believed many tourists might not be aware of sea turtles, or realize the sensitivity of their nesting environment. He hoped a friendly reminder would at least spark conversation between the many who purchase the beach trinket.
"When we moved here six or seven years ago, we had no idea that turtles were coming up and nesting on the beach," Emond said.
Sharon Maxwell, the founder of South Walton Turtle Watch who holds the sea turtle permit for non-state park Walton County beaches, said that since the movement started, she's noticed a complete drop in shovels being left on the beach.
Maxwell took this as a sign that people were getting the message and becoming more mindful that they're sharing the Gulf Coast.
"It's working," Maxwell said, adding she hoped to one day see the movement extend to all coastal Walmarts. "I don't care how it helps the group. I hope it helps the sea turtles."
According to Campbell, she and her husband recently received a $1,000 grant from Walmart. They plan to use it on additional sea turtle conservation efforts, she said.
"We get our inspiration from Sharon Maxwell, our director, who founded the organization more than 20 years ago," Campbell said. "Sea turtles are endangered and are struggling to survive in close proximity to us."