Grant: 17-020C
Project Title: Reclaim Our Coasts: Improving sea turtle nesting habitat in Florida
Project Manager: Karen A. Bjorndal
Organization: University of Florida - Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research (Research and Educational Institute)
Grant Amount: $30,100.00
Completion Date: 2019-06-24

Summary: Extensive coastal development in Florida has reduced accessibility to nesting habitat and increased hazards to emerging hatchlings and nesting turtles. Also, recent hurricanes have left the coastline strewn with debris. In 2016, the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research at the University of Florida implemented a Reclaim Our Coasts (ROC) program to improve sea turtle access to Floridaís beaches, reduce hazards for nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, and improve nearshore habitats. In collaboration with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Marine Turtle Permit Holders, information on several derelict structures on nesting beaches throughout Florida have been reported. These structures can be hazards to nesting turtles and hatchlings because they could become trapped or injured. This project will continue the collaboration with FWC and local partners to identify additional barriers/obstacles to sea turtles, assess feasibility, conduct removals, and improve the associate dunes to improve sea turtle nesting habitat. Selection of structures is an ongoing process and can be fluid, particularly after severe storm events.

Results: We conducted two important beach debris removal projects at locations in the Florida Panhandle. Our first project using these grant funds was conducted at Cape San Blas (Eglin Air Force Base property, Gulf County) from 12-17 March 2018 in partnership with Eglin Air Force Base (EAFB), Duke Civil Engineering section. USGS obtained permission from USFWS and we coordinated with EAFB to conduct the removal project with their assistance and staff. We removed over 150 tree trunks, 52 creosote pilings, at least 80 tons of concrete and asphalt, and approximately 120 m of wire fencing from the EAFB site. Approximately 1.1 km of linear nesting habitat and an area of >25,000 square meters was cleared of debris.

Our second debris removal project was conducted in Franklin County at Bald Point State Park (BPSP) and two adjacent private properties.The actual removal took approximately two weeks to complete. The debris removed included an estimated 924 tons of concrete and asphalt, and more than 100 creosote pilings. The creosote pilings were disposed of at an approved site in Florida, and the concrete debris are being crushed and reused as road base by the contractor. The total area cleared was approximately 13,750 m2 of beach habitat. No dune restoration was needed due to the good condition of the upper beach vegetation and dunes in the park. We are very excited to have improved these two sea turtle nesting beaches in the Florida Panhandle, increasing the habitat for this loggerhead management subunit.

Photos at right: Before (top) and after (bottom) photos of debris removal site at Cape San Blas, Eglin Air Force Base property, Gulf County, FL. This is the site of former residences and lighthouse. Areas marked with orange flagging tape (bottom photo) indicate the location of loggerhead turtle nests.