Turtle nesting season begins in April. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project is looking for volunteers to help patrol the beaches.
The organization works with scientists at Texas A&M University who hold the permit to collect the eggs of endangered turtles.
Joanie Steinhaus, who is the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s associate campaign director, Gulf Coast, talked about the work of volunteers.
Q: What do volunteers do?
A: Volunteers will walk the beaches looking for signs of a nesting sea turtle.
If they are fortunate they may see a turtle emerge from the water, crawling to the dune or in the base of the dune nesting.
Volunteers may find tracks, usually two sets, one incoming and one outgoing. The crawl pattern looks like alternating comma shaped claw marks with a smooth belly drag in the center and possibly a tail mark.
Volunteers will call 866-turtle-5 to report any evidence of a nesting turtle.
They will be asked to take photos of the turtle, the nesting activity, crawl and mark the nest after the turtle leaves.
They are not to attempt to prevent the turtle from leaving the beach, but asked to ensure her safety while she is nesting and making her way from and back to the Gulf waters.
Q: Why is this so important?
A: The Kemp’s ridley is the most critically endangered sea turtle, and every nest is important to survival of this sea turtle.
If a nest is not found the risk of natural predations is very high. Undetected nests may be run over by vehicles and bikes, or covered by beach cleaning activity.
Q: Some federal funds that had been earmarked to help preserve endangered species have been cut.
Do those budget cuts make the role of volunteers more important?
A: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has cut funding for the binational effort for the Kemp’s ridley, which will impact the work that is completed on the Mexican nesting beaches.
For the past four years, the nesting patrols in the Galveston area have been funded by Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and the assessment period has ended.
There are ecological restoration funds in Texas for projects such as the nest patrols but these funds have not been released, so, yes, the effort, dedication and time of the volunteer patrols will be very valuable to a successful nesting patrol.
Q: How long is nesting season? What kind of commitment are volunteers being asked to make?
A: Nesting season runs from April through mid-July, and we request the volunteers commit to a weekly or every other week patrol.
The shifts last two or three hours and start either at 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m.
If an individual would like to become an official volunteer, they must complete one of the training sessions, sign a waiver and commit to the nesting season. Or they may attend a general training class and look for turtles when they are enjoying time on our beaches.
Training sessions will be on March 22 from 8:30 a.m. to noon or March 25 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Both sessions will take place at TAMUG Sea Aggie Center, Room 501, and parking restrictions will be lifted during the training sessions.
Individuals must be registered to attend a session and may do so by sending me an email with their name, vehicle license plate number and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.