Around this area so close to the beach and warm Gulf waters, everyone is aware that April through October is turtle season. It has evolved into an almost sacred time when the huge sea turtles come on shore, dig a deep hole in the sand and lay a hundred or more tiny eggs. They cover the eggs and leave nature to take its course. The majority of nests are laid from May to August with about 50 nests laid each year on St Pete Beach (including Pass-a-Grill) beaches plus up to 100 on Shell Island and Outback Key.
Modern civilization has placed this species in danger whose life expectancy is on the low side anyway. So man has taken charge to protect these sea creatures and help keep their population alive and strong. The state of Florida issues permits to individuals who are responsible for monitoring turtles on specific stretches of sandy beaches.
Locally, Bruno Faulkenstein holds the state permit for St Pete Beach, Shell Island & Outback Key, and is president of Sea Turtle Trackers, a volunteer organization that monitors and protects seas turtles on our beaches. On their early morning patrols, this group will record and cordon off the nests laid and covered during the night by momma turtles. Later in the season, they baby sit the nests to ensure the turtle hatchlings safely reach the sea. Volunteer “Turtle Man” Bruno has led the cause to protect sea turtles in our area for over thirty years.
All of this being said, I’m going to share a story told to me by a cute personable sea turtle named Tessie. Tessie tells the sea turtle’s tale as lived by her own experiences. Enjoy.
“Hello there, I’m Tessie, a sea turtle. I usually weigh about 200 pounds plus and average about 42 inches long and 34 inches wide. I am officially known as CARETTA CARETTA, but you can call me a Loggerhead, that’s my common name. I have front and rear flippers instead of hands and feet and a very small tail. I am reddish brown on top which is my carapace, and yellowish underneath which is my plastron.
My family has been vacationing on these islands for the past 90,000,000 years. My mother, a mature turtle, came ashore one night in June. She crawled out of the Gulf of Mexico with great difficulty and investigated the beach for a location she liked, and then dug her nest to specific dimensions 21 inches above sea level. After she was satisfied it was a good nest she laid 128 eggs, (I, of course, was one of them) carefully covering with sand to hide them from predators. She then crawled back into the sea waters after only an hour, happy her budding family was safe.
When I was just an egg, it took me about 60 days down in the warm sandy nest to develop into a complete turtle hatchling. Then all 128 of us popped out of the sand like popcorn out of a popper! That’s when we needed the help of Sea Turtle Trackers as we made our way across the beach to the water trying to avoid ghost crabs that will eat us. Also, we avoided, if possible artificial lights which can draw us to a roadway and we end up under a car wheel!
We have been declared by the U.S. government an endangered species and have laws to protect us. Sometimes our nests have been dug up to eat mother’s eggs, or my aunts and uncles killed to make jewelry out of their shells and wallets, belts and other leather goods from their skin.
So, I ask you, please if you see my mother or my sisters on the beach some dark night DO NOT DISTURB US, DO NOT TAKE FLASH PICTURES AND DO NOT SHINE LIGHTS INTO OUR EYES! If you do, we’ll go back into the water without laying eggs. Let’s hope we are all around for years and years.
And now you know the turtle story right from Tessie. You can view Tessie’s younger cousin, Tommy, on display at the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum which has more good information on the sea turtle family. Once the first nest appears, the Museum charts nest locations and keeps a count as the season progresses. (The gift shop also has great turtle items.) So get out your turtle t’shirt, hat and all things turtle and help bring attention to the Sea Turtles. Tessie would appreciate your support! Let’s make this a good turtle season and a tribute to all faithful Sea Turtle Trackers!
To learn more about Sea Turtle Trackers, visit seaturtletrackers.org (click here)