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Turtles in the Sand @ Bahia Honda State Park

turtle-sculptFirst Hawksbill Turtle Nest in the USA for 3 Years

Two very unique yet similar events happened at Bahia Honda State Park in The Florida Keys: Turtles hatching from the sand and turtles emerging from the sand. You might think these two sound the same, but you will soon view them as two unique yet similar occurrences.

Florida’s seas turtles include Loggerhead, Green, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and hawksbill. “All of these sea turtle species are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and monitoring nesting activity is critical to understanding the biology and ecology of these imperiled species” according to the FWC website on turtle research. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) says two, of the 5 sea turtles species found in Florida (Kemp’s Ridley and hawksbill) nest in very small numbers. It is believed no reported nesting of a hawksbill turtle has occurred in the US since 2011.

Mid September – While this is late in the turtle season, Bahia Honda State Park Ranger Elaine Mason discovered a turtle crawl. A crawl is the trail turtlesa turtle leaves in the sand when they nest; proceeding from the water, up to the dune area, and back to the ocean. Each turtle species has a distinctive pattern. Even though hawksbill turtles nest every 2-3 years, Ranger Mason was excited to see, what she believed, was the hawksbill female reported nesting on this same beach for over 16 years. Hawksbill are similar to salmon returning to the exact stream where they were hatched, hawksbill turtles return to their beach of origin, “they are very beach specific”, stated Sue from FWC.

Then the waiting began. The average incubation period is around 2 months (approx. 60 days). “All of us at Bahia Honda are very turtle-3excited that this hawksbill turtle nest hatched. Like expectant parents, we had been waiting in great anticipation!” explained Brittany Burtner, Bahia Honda Park Services Specialist. A turtle nest of 100 Ping-Pong sized eggs does not guarantee 100 adorable little turtles in 2 months. There are many factors that contribute to the demise of an entire nest of turtle eggs, from natural predators, weather, and tides to feral cats, uneducated tourists, and poachers. Mid November, two weeks past the typical closure of “Turtle Season”, the little tiny tracks of forty-some hawksbill hatchlings were discovered trekking down from the nest location to the waters edge. Assessment of the nest revealed the startling truth about the circle of life – it’s not always easy! 

What of the turtles emerging from the sand? I’m glad you asked. Florida State Park Volunteer, “TheSandman” Rick Mungeam just happened to be on hand the day evaluating the nest. Knowing the importance as well as the threats to sea turtles and the fact his business Beach Sand Sculptures uses and reuses the natural resource of sand from the beaches of Florida, Rick Mungeam wisely promotes turtle awareness. “This was a unique opportunity for us to use the Art of Sand Sculpting to increase the public consciousness on the importance of protecting our sea turtles”, explained professional sand sculptor, Rick Mungeam. Each morning during turtle season (May 1 – Oct 31) Beach Sand Sculptures SandCastle Coaches await the “ALL CLEAR” text from various Turtle Watch organizations before proceeding to teach SandCastle Lessons. Annually their SandCastle Coaches receive continued education from local volunteer organizations; in turn the SandCastle Coaches incorporate this vital information into every SandCastle Lesson to encourage the awareness of protecting the sea turtles. Creating the sand sculpture, Turtle Emerging From The Sand, is just one more way they help educate the public about these endangered animals.

BeachSandSculptures supports Sea Turtle Awareness!

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