Despite Tropical Storm Cindy potentially damaging some nest early due to flooding earlier this year, this year's turtle nesting season has been a hugely successful one in South Walton. South Walton Turtle Watch and several parks have reported a banner nesting season for the rare and endangered sea turtles.
South Walton Turtle Watch's Sharon Maxwell has a lot to celebrate.
In her 20-plus years of heading up SWTW, the highest numbers of turtles logged as nesting on South Walton’s beaches were 97.
This year, she and the endangered sea turtles that come ashore here broke that record. The season is not over yet and she already has 104 nests.
"We have already celebrated, so however many more come in, it's all gravy," she said.
The latest she has logged a turtle coming ashore to nest is mid August.
The year she had 97 was in 2012. That year, she also logged 36 false crawls, where the turtle came ashore but did not nest. This year she has logged 69 false crawls.
"Before, we haven't been able to equate the false crawls to things, but now, there are so many people on the beach that they tell us when they see a turtle try to nest but she can't for all the lights," she said. "There are a lot of people out at night and so are the turtles."
Of the 104 nests, six of those are greens and the rest are loggerheads.
Maxwell said it's easy to tell the difference between the two's tracks.
"Loggerheads alternate walking on one flipper at a time, and Greens drag themselves using both flippers. Their tracks are parallel and their tail sticks down in the sand," she said. "That many greens is good for us."
So far, none have hatched, but Maxwell said that is to be expected as they found their first nest in late May.
Topsail Hill State Park has also seen a banner year with 14 nests, said Park Manager Mebane Ogden. All of theirs are loggerheads except for two. One is a green and they have one rare Kemp's Ridley, which is a smaller turtle.
Down the road a bit at Grayton State Park, they also report a banner year.
They had 10 nest, but one got washed out, so they are left with nine active. All are loggerheads.
Park Service Specialist Slade Ward reported there are also two at Deer Lake.
"We have had a very active season," said Ward. "Our number is right up there with the highest we have had. We are now looking for the first nest to hatch."
Grayton has had 14 false crawls.
Remember to keep all white lights off when at the beach at night.