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Tyndall assists in preserving threatened species

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Veronica McMahon
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
At 4:30 a.m. each day when many people are just waking up, Natural Resources personnel and volunteers are scouring 17 miles of Tyndall Air Force Base beaches in search of turtle nests. 

Johnny Jennings, 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources wildlife technician, and Courtney Roberson, 325th CES summer hire, are among the few who wake before sunrise from May through October, to helpbaby sea turtles survive during nesting season. 

"It's good getting on the ATVs early in the morning and seeing the beach and everything before people come," said Ms. Roberson. "Not many people get the opportunity to do this, and we want to make sure the turtles get all the help they can." 

The team searches for visible evidence of turtle activity during morning beach runs.
"Out there, we are looking for turtle crawls to find where they nest, then we document the information," said Ms. Roberson. 

The team documents information such as width, distance, beach location and turtle species. Documenting a crawl takes roughly 20 minutes. If the crawl leads to a nest that must be moved, an hour or more is spent conducting the relocation. This time is in addition to the 3 hours it takes to ride the length of the beach. 

"About 85 percent of the nests we come across must be moved," said Mr. Jennings. "If they are in the flat area we try to move them back to the dune area. This is to save them from being washed out by the ocean's waves. We also try to put them higher on the dune, so they (the baby turtles) will be attracted to the glow of the moon on the water." 

So far this year the team has found 31 nests on Tyndall beaches, according to Mr. Jennings, each ranging from 62 to 127 eggs. This year's first nest was found on June 2, and is expected to hatch in the first few days of August. Three days after the hatching, the team will count how many eggs hatched and document the results. 

The Loggerhead turtle is the most frequently found sea turtle on Tyndall beaches. This species can reach anywhere from 150 to 400 pounds and is reddish brown to yellow in color.  The Leatherback and Green turtles are also in the local area; however, their nests aren't often found on Tyndall AFB. 

Programs are in place at all local coastline areas to assist the turtles during nesting season. Tyndall AFB has participated in this environmental assistance for more than 15 years. 

"One out of 1,000 baby turtles is said to reach adulthood," said Mr. Jennings. "So their chances are slim. They are a threatened species and we want to help them survive so hopefully they will make a comeback." 

The turtles have many natural predators on land and at sea. To help increase their chance of survival, beachgoers are discouraged from camping, digging holes, hanging out late at night and going on early morning group runs on the beach without notifying the Natural Resources center.