SCCF’s sea turtle monitoring program is made possible by dedicated volunteers like Irene Nolan and Diane Clark, who attend required state training every year to help our staff conduct all permitted nest monitoring activities.
A few times a week, Nolan and Clarke head out to the beach at 6:15 a.m. in an ATV loaded with stakes, screens, and signs for sea turtle nests in preparation for a 6-mile journey along Sanibel. As they drive along the shore, their practiced eyes intently scan the tide line for evidence of new sea turtle crawls.
“This time of year, new crawls can be spotted as often as every 20 or 30 feet,” explained Clarke, a Sanibel resident who’s been volunteering for the program for nine years.
Once turtle tracks are found, Nolan and Clarke quickly stop the vehicle to assess whether the marks are from a new nest or a false crawl — when the female makes landfall but returns to the ocean without laying eggs.
“One of the best moments is discovering a new nest,” said Nolan, a 21-years-strong SCCF volunteer who’s permitted to dig suspected sea turtle nests to confirm that eggs are present. “The female digs a chamber for the eggs, and you can feel where she was digging because the sand suddenly gets softer. We just look for the top of the first egg before covering it back up.”
Sea turtle nests are numbered, protected with a screen, pegs, and stakes, and recorded in an all-important binder documenting every nest and false crawl on Sanibel or Captiva since the beginning of the sea turtle season in April. GPS location and position on the beach are also noted.
False crawls — which tend to be more frequent than nests (there have been over 900 this season alone!) — are raked over to signal they’ve already been logged.
“It's been a really busy season so far, and with staff and volunteers routinely finding upward of 30 new sea turtle crawls daily. The morning can easily extend into the afternoon,” said SCCF Sea Turtle Biologist Jack Brzoza. “We’re so grateful to Irene, Diane, and all our other sea turtle volunteers for making our program possible.”
And to Nolan and Clarke, the hard labor is well worth it. They laugh and smile along the way, double checking everything they do to make sure all requirements are filled.
“The most rewarding part of volunteering for this program is knowing the turtle hatchlings have made it out to sea,” Nolan said.
““There’s nothing that compares to the feeling you get watching a straggler make its way to the water, dive under, then raise its head for its first breath," Clarke added. "I think all sea turtle permittees would agree there’s nothing glamorous about what we do — it’s hot, sweaty, grimy, exhausting work, but we love it."
SCCF sea turtle volunteers also include morning walkers, who cover different zones of the beach in search of potential new sea turtle nests, which are flagged for permittees.
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SCCF’s sea turtle nest monitoring and protection activities are authorized by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permit 170. To report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings, please call our Sea Turtle Hotline: 978-728-3663.