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HIDDEN

By: Tammy Cash

Nesting season of our protected and vulnerable shore birds and sea turtles is in full swing, and so are summer beach vacations. With the Independence Day holiday weekend marking the height of beach vacation time, states in the southeast along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts reminds beachgoers how to “share the shore.” Help shore-nesting birds and turtles survive while enjoying beach time in their coastal habitats during this holiday weekend and beyond. Typically from April through August, shorebirds, seabirds, and turtles rely on the sandy beaches for critical nesting habitats. Everyone headed to the beach can make a big difference in their nesting success. Be a hero for beach-nesting birds and turtles this Independence Day weekend and beyond by following these simple tips:

Stay off the dunes. Walk below the high tide lines or on the wet-sand. The dry sand and dunes above the high tide, also called the wrack line are where shorebirds and sea turtles are nesting.

Do the “flock walk” and observe from a distance. Keep at least 300 feet from nesting birds and walk around flocks of birds. Getting too close to nesting shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds can cause them to flush from their breeding sites, leaving vulnerable eggs and chicks exposed to the elements and predators. Egg temperatures can increase to lethal levels after just a few minutes of direct sun exposure. Birds and turtles lay eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand where the nests, eggs and chicks are camouflaged to blend with its surroundings. This makes makes them difficult to be seen and vulnerable of being stepped by beachgoers. Also, watch where you set up camp. Pay attention, if a bird acts aggressively towards you, it’s likely that you are too close to its nest.

Look for Critical Wildlife Area closures. Be on the lookout for signs designating nesting and critical areas on the beach or coastal islands – avoid these posted areas as they are closed to public access to protect high concentrations of wading birds, shorebirds and turtles while they nest and raise their offspring. Boaters and beachgoers can help by keeping distance and noise volumes low near these critical areas.

Keep Fido at home or on a leash. Even fun-loving, well-behaved dogs can frighten shorebirds, causing them to abandon their eggs and chicks. If you bring your dog with you to the shore, go to a beach where they’re allowed and follow all leash laws.

Properly stash the trash, fill the holes, and leave no trace. Trash and food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows that prey on bird/turtle eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches and in the water can entangle birds, turtles and other wildlife. Beachgoers can help beach-nesting birds and other wildlife by properly disposing of all trash, filling in human-made holes in the sand, and removing all personal gear from the beach before sunset. Fishing line can be deadly to birds, sea turtles and other wildlife, so be sure to dispose of it properly. Search for a monofilament recycling station near you.

Leave the fireworks to the professionals. Keep personal fireworks off the beach and at home; attend an official event instead that has been properly authorized for beach areas. The loud sounds and bright lights of personal fireworks on the beaches and waterways can have catastrophic effects on nesting birds and their chicks, as well as nesting sea turtles.

Currently all seven species of our sea turtles are listed as federally threatened or endangered. Some of the cause(s) of their decline include loss of habitat, boat strikes, capture and drowning in commercial fishing nets,  and many other human-caused dangers.  It is believed that as a result of these detrimental threats only about one in four thousand sea turtles will survive to reproductive maturity, exact estimates vary.

Tips while visiting turtle nesting beaches:

  • LIGHTS OFF! Leave your bright lights at home (or carry red “turtle-friendly” lights). White lights can deter nesters and cause hatchlings to crawl the wrong way. If you’re staying the beach that is home for nesting turtles, turn off exterior lighting and draw your shades at night during turtle season (May-October).
  • Take your beach chairs and gear home with you – discarded gear causes unnecessary obstacles for turtles and may cause them to false crawl. Fill in sandcastles and holes, which create roadblocks for nesting mothers and hatchlings.
  • Never litter. Ensure all trash, including plastic bags and six-pack rings, are properly disposed of or recycled.
  • Slowdown in the water! Boat strikes account for a significant number of sea turtle deaths annually.
  • If you’re ever lucky enough to encounter a nesting sea turtle or hatchling, please watch from a safe and quiet distance and never disturb a nest. All species of sea turtles are protected by state and federal laws.
  • To report a dead or injured sea turtle, please call 1-800-2-SAVE-ME.

Some of our near-threatened, threatened and/or endangered feathered friends that nest on the southeastern U.S. beaches are the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, and American oystercatcher. The sea turtles that lay eggs in the southeast are loggerheads, leatherbacks, green turtles. All of these species and others are facing conservation challenges and need help from people to survive.

Pass the information on to your family and friends; let them know how to be a hero for our shore birds and turtles!

Resources for information about sharing the shore with beach-nesting birds and turtles:

In Georgia:

  • Beach-nesting bird tips and video are available at com/conservation/birds, click “Share the Beach”.
  • Sign up for updates on the Georgia Shorebird Alliance Facebook page.
  • If you see people disturbing nesting birds, respectfully tell them how their actions can affect the birds. If the people continue, contact DNR’s Law Enforcement hotline, (800) 241-4113 or rangerhotline@dnr.ga.gov.
  • To report any dead, sick or injured sea turtles to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Marine Resources Division at 912-280-6892. You can also call the Stranding Hotline at 1-800-2-Save-Me (1-800-272-8363).

In Florida:

In Alabama:

In South Carolina:

In North Carolina:

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