No turtle nests lost during Michael

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate |
South Walton Turtle Watch sets up stakes and ropes off sea turtle nest in Walton County. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

Even though the winds gusted and the rain poured, Walton County beaches sustained only minimal damages.

Recently, the Florida Panhandle saw its fair share of devastation. Fortunately, Walton County's beaches held strong, and Hurricane Michael visited without disrupting the local sea turtle nesting cycle.

"The dinosaurs are gone, but sea turtles are still here, so, in my book, we don't ever want to lose them," said Sharon Maxwell, who is a member of the South Walton Turtle Watch and holds the sea turtle permit for non-state park Walton County beaches.

Her and the nearly 80 other board members of the conservation group patrol the beaches from May 1 to Oct. 31, putting up markers, monitoring nest development and attempting to bridge the gap from normal beach-goers to sea turtle conservationists.

"We ... look at (the beach) as a sea turtle nesting habitat, but many people look at it as a playground, so I'm hoping that someday the two will come together and we will both respect each other for the area of the beautiful beaches we have," Maxwell said.

Though the listed dates for sea turtle nesting are May 1 through Oct. 31, she said that the actual period for Walton is much shorter — due to the area's white sand that reflex sunlight rather absorbing it like other areas around Florida — and that if this hurricane had to come, it chose a good time to do so for the turtle's sake.

"Oct. 31 really means hatching," she said, and added that the main threats facing sea turtles are unnatural lighting and beach erosion. "Our nests usually start the middle of May, the nesting, and runs only until the middle of August."

Maxwell said that there was only one nest that was hit by Hurricane Michael, but its eggs were undeveloped and had become infertile after previous water damage. The group looked after a total of 66 nests across public beaches this season and plans to continue its efforts in the future.

Mike Kerrigan, the director of marketing for the Walton County Tourist Development Council, said that the county beaches are looking good, and that any erosion sustained during the hurricane was spread out and could have been a lot worse.

"There really wasn't an area that got it the worst," Kerrigan said. "It's pretty consistent across the board. Obviously, the storm making landfall to the east of us would put that side of the county closer to it, but the beach erosion is really very minor throughout the county."

He added that while Walton County was fortunate during Michael's appearance on the coast, other areas weren't, and that the council was partnering with the 30A Company to make a limited-edition T-shirt — sold at with 100 percent of the proceeds going to hurricane relief — and have more relief announcements coming in the near future.

"We were very fortunate, and we are taking steps to raise funds and other relief efforts for our neighboring counties further east down the coast," Kerrigan said.