Turtle walkers from the area and turtle walker-wannabes gathered in Panama City on Tuesday morning for training to be able to walk this coming turtle season.

Statewide, turtle season is from March to October. Due to our cooler waters and sand, in the Northwest Florida Panhandle, turtle season is from May 1 to Aug. 31.

The state is a nesting home to five different species of turtles: the Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Kemp Ridley, and Hawkbill. The Loggerhead is considered threatened and the rest are on the endangered list.

Interestingly, 90 percent of the Loggerhead's nesting takes place in Florida, and a majority of those nests are in Northwest Florida.

"We are the principle stewards for this species," said Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission's Dr. Anne Meylan.

Therefore, the Endangered Species Act regulates and directs tracking of nesting sea turtles that are threatened or endangered and walkers or trackers must undergo training to take part in the activity or such activity is against the law.

Each year the agency recruits volunteer trackers who are willing to walk the beach and keep track of the number of turtles that come ashore and nest, as well as help determine the species of the turtle.

While Northwest Florida yearly documents mostly Loggerheads coming up on our shores, the area also occasionally sees a Green or Kemp Ridley nest.

2013 was a banner year for nesting, with 77,963 nests marked that year in the state.

One in 17 Loggerheads nest in State Parks.

Walkers who go out to help in the tracking go out before sunrise. They search for tracks and identify them via their trained eye or email pictures of the tracks to their coordinator for identification.

An alternating paisley gate from the sea up to the dunes means Loggerhead.

Parallel, even tracks mean a Green.

The Loggerhead will also drop its head, with which it helps push the sand.

The Green has a long tail that leaves its own track through the sand between its flippers.

Loggerheads tend to be sensitive to disturbances and impediments and 50 percent of the time after they come ashore, they won't nest, but go back out to sea.

All of the species tend to nest in the dark of night, except for the rare Kemp Ridley, which can often be found nesting in mid afternoon. The Kemp's Ridley is smaller, round, and gray, and they also have a wavy, alternating gate similar to the Loggerhead's.

The hatchlings that emerge from these turtle's nests and survive, will return in 30 years to the same spot they were hatched, to lay their own eggs.

In Florida, 57 beaches participate in the tracking process. The Panhandle has less participating than any other area in Florida.     


Sun Reporter Deborah Wheeler will be a volunteer turtle walker and will be offering periodic updates on her experiences.