Volunteers help sea turtles clear hurdles on Alabama’s Gulf Coast

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By Robert DeWitt

The sea turtles hatched on a dreary, rainy Sunday morning and the babies scattered all over the beach. Precious few from the nest made it to the Gulf of Mexico, where they belong.

Mike Reynolds watched the tragic scene play out and wanted to do something about it.

“I said, ‘There has to be a better way,’” Reynolds said. And he wasn’t alone.

“It started as a loose confederation of people on the beach who were aware that sea turtle hatchlings were getting run over in the road,” he said.

That was the genesis of Share the Beach, a nonprofit volunteer organization that operates through the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. More than 350 people are volunteering to help as many sea turtle hatchlings as possible make it from the Alabama coastline to the Gulf to replenish the populations of three endangered and threatened species.

Getting permission to help

Volunteers arrive before daylight. Sometimes they go all day without seeing any sign of a turtle or its nest. Chandra Wright said it can make volunteers wonder sometimes why they do it. But once they see baby turtles hatch and crawl to the water, they wonder no more.

“It’s completely worth it when those babies hatch out,” Wright said. “It’s amazing. It’s one of those events that doesn’t ever get old.”

A little more than 15 years ago, after watching the hatchlings perish from the nest near his home in Gulf Shores, Reynolds spoke to Kelly Reetz, the naturalist at Gulf State Park.

“We decided we needed our own organization,” Reynolds said. “So I went to U.S. Fish and Wildlife and applied for a ‘take’ permit and got one.”

Loggerhead sea turtles, the most common sea turtle on the Alabama coast, and green sea turtles, a rare visitor to Alabama, are both listed as “threatened” species. Kemps Ridley sea turtles, a few of which nest in Alabama, are listed as “endangered.” It is illegal to disturb, injure or kill threatened or endangered species without a permit.

The take permit allows volunteers with Share the Beach to move nests to safer areas and handle eggs and hatchlings. From May 1 through the end of August, they patrol the beaches every morning looking for signs that a turtle has nested.

For the full story and a video, visit http://alabamanewscenter.com.

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