South Walton Turtle Watch Group

Barb Van Stavern
Special to Gannett

SANTA ROSA BEACH — The 2020 sea turtle nesting is not over yet, but South Walton Turtle Watch Group (SWTWG) coordinators and volunteers continue to work to protect and conserve some of Walton County’s oldest and most vulnerable residents.

The official end of nesting season is Oct. 31, but hatching will continue into November this season.

The 2020 season has been challenging in many ways with COVID, tropical storms and Hurricane Sally, as well as the loss of customary use along with easy, safe access to the beaches.

A sea turtle nest is seen on a South Walton beach earlier this year 2020.

SWTWG's staff and volunteers have put in many hours of service in sometimes difficult circumstances, but overall they’ve managed to conduct their work with the support of many, recording a total of 79 nests and 37 false crawls. Fifty-four nests were loggerheads and 24 were greens.

Nests lost to storm surges totaled 15, and there are currently 13 nests still incubating, some of which experienced some wash over but could still potentially produce hatchlings.

Lacie Wegner, MTP #120 QI with SWTWG states: “These numbers are in line with our annual average. However we saw an unprecedented increase in the number of greens this season, which is really exciting.”

Sea turtles lay their eggs and can become stranded on both public and private beaches, sometimes high in the dunes and other times near the water; they potentially nest anywhere on the beach. This means that teams will sometimes need to access private property to perform marine turtle-permitted activities or to respond to sick, disoriented or injured animals.

SWTWG would like to thank the Walton County Tourist Development Council, private and public property owners, resorts, HOA’s, local businesses, restaurants, vendors, etc., for their support, assistance and cooperation in allowing us to access nesting beaches to perform these vital functions and activities that protect and conserve our sea turtles.

“As the season begins to wind down, we will continue to monitor for hatchlings, so it’s important to remember to turn off those beach front lights, cellphone lights, fill in holes, and pick up trash and belongings each day so our turtles can safely make their way to the water,” Wegner said.

To report sea turtle sightings or stranded animals, call 850-865-4503. Never push beached or stranded animals back into the water.