Gulf Trace is now recognized as "sea turtle friendly" by the Florida Sea Grant, a University of Florida-based program in partnership with Florida Board of Education, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Florida's citizens and governments.



It was early in 2010 when the Gulf Trace Homeowner's Association became more aware of state and county ordinances outlining the safety standards in regards to the nesting of turtles.



When Richard Harrell, one of the founders and past presidents of Gulf Trace Homeowner's Association, attended a seminar presented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the spring of 2010, he learned about the danger of lights along the seashore.



"Lights emanating from beach side homes confuse both the nesting female as she misinterprets lights for moonlight on the water and her progenies [offspring] as they emerge from their nests months later," explained Harrell.



 "In spite of good trends, the continuing encroachment on our beaches by civilization poses dangerous threats," he added.



Gulf Trace residents got to work by replacing 250 light fixtures from 38 homes with bug lights. The yellow tinted light bulbs reduce the attraction of turtles as well as insects. Harrell credits Nancy and Ron Lewis for taking command of the project.



"They ordered the bulbs and fixtures, stored them in their garage, sent out a bid for electricians, hired them, scheduled the workloads...," Harrell said. "It was a big assignment, but professionally executed."



Sea turtles have been coming ashore for 200 million years, Harrell told The Sun.



"Despite all of the threats facing turtles in recent years, generated by the oil spill and storms, Florida's population of loggerhead, green and small leatherback turtles has continued to grow," he said. "Just 25 years ago, statewide nesting of green turtles rarely exceeded 1,000 nests. Since then, green turtle nesting population has grown exponentially and in recent years has sent new records."



The Gulf Trace Homeowners association received their plaque in recognition of their work in a small celebration on April 17.



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2012: A Year in the Turtle Watch Record Books



 



This past year held major significance for Sharon Maxwell of the South Walton Turtle Watch, which saw a record number of sea turtles visiting the South Walton shores in 2012.



"On average we see 35 to 40 sea turtles," she said. "Last year, it was 97."



The Sea Turtle Watch is comprised of a group of volunteers who protect endangered and threatened sea turtle nests during nesting and hatching season. Volunteers gather information, such as measuring tracks, to send to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to use in their state data.



Florida is home to five different species of sea turtles, four of which were spotted in Walton County in 2012 loggerhead, green, leatherback, and the Kemp's ridley sea turtles were all represented.



The 2013 nesting season begins May 1 and ends October 31. Maxwell said she has no idea what to expect this year.



"You never know," she said. "We weren't expecting a record number last year."



Maxwell started the Turtle Watch group in 1995. As an animal lover, volunteering as an advocate for endangered species is a passion.



"You just get hooked," she said.



On April 5, a Kemps Riley turtle was caught in a net and drowned. Maxwell said the turtle looked to be a nesting female. The South Walton Turtle Watch advises beach goers to watch what they put in the water.



"Be a good steward," she said.