This is very hard to write: It is about Nest No. 34. This nest was in the west end of Gulf Pines. This nest hatched last night (WHEN) and when I got to the nest it was dark but I could see it had hatched. About 10 hatchlings went to the east and about six made it to the water; the other four got pulled down ghost crab holes. The rest left the nest and went about 35 feet toward the water and then went back west and then north toward the lights at the condos.
I called the whole west end walkers for the day and had them come down to help find hatchlings and they did not walk their area. This was an important task; we had to find the hatchlings. We only found nine. The rest we could see were taken down crab holes. How do we know this? Because their little footprints stop and then you see the ghost crab tracks and the drag marks of the hatchlings going into the crab holes. We walked and walked over 300 yards, all the way to Camping on the Gulf, to the west and up into and all the way to the buildings, following hatchling tracks. Of the nine hatchlings we found three that were bleeding and badly injured. One has already died. We, all 6 of us, were out looking; even folks on the beach helped looked.
This was a heart-breaking experience. To think that out of over 100 hatchlings, only about 6 made it to the water; the rest followed the lights to their deaths.
Even more heartbreaking is the fact that Walton County has had a lighting ordinance since 2009. These lights clearly should not be on the beach side and should have been corrected long ago. This summer alone I, myself have sent pictures and lighting violation reports to code enforcement over twice a week. Picture after picture. I even added the fact that there were two nests in the area and one was hatching soon. What was done about this, as far as I can see nothing at all. And because of inaction, sea turtle hatchlings died.
Just what does Turtle Watch have to do to get our wildlife lighting ordinance enforced so that no more hatchlings have to die. Our group is mad as hell and we hope someone does something about this.
We still have another nest nearby. Are these hatchlings doomed?
You can help by passing along our message to use only red light emitting flashlights on the beach, and keep all lights that shine onto the beach off during sea turtle season. You would be amazed at how good you can see at night without lights shinning in your face. If you have the good luck of living on the beach, please remember this is sea turtle nesting habitat and they need our beaches to lay their eggs. You also can encourage Walton County County Commissioners to enforce our wildlife light ordinance.
We have a very big lighting problem here in Walton County in all areas. We need this taken care of NOW. Volunteers walk the beaches early to protect the sea turtles, only to have to look for hatchlings in the dunes, and see them dragged off by ghost crabs
Sharon Maxwell is founder of South Walton Turtle Watch