The 2017 sea turtle season has begun and we are looking forward to the arrival of nesting sea turtles.  Last year had its challenges due to the beach renourishment project. Permits were required in order for all the sea turtle nests laid on Pensacola Beach to be relocated into the closest section of Gulf Islands National Seashore, out of harm’s way.  Sea turtle nests laid west of the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier were moved into Ft. Pickens GINS and those laid on the east side were moved into Santa Rosa GINS.

In addition to our newly-expanded beach, a boon for the sea turtle season ahead comes from the Leave No Trace ordinance which went into effect in September 2015 and requires all tents, chairs and other personal property to be removed from the beach at sunset.  Last year was the first sea turtle season under the new ordinance and the result went far beyond our hopes. The number of sea turtle nests in 2016 not only broke a record for Pensacola Beach, but more than doubled the number of nests laid in 2015.
Interestingly, my passion for sea turtles was what initiated a much deeper interest in birds.  This will be my 10th year as a sea turtle volunteer, my 9th as a patroller.  Originally from Middle Tennessee, I was completely unfamiliar with the shorebirds I spotted during summer sea turtle patrols at Ft. Pickens. I found myself coming home afterwards to search the Internet, trying to identify various birds.  It was quite a surprise to discover some shorebirds would “change clothes” throughout the months we patrolled the beach – juvenile to adult plumage, breeding to non-breeding plumage, and then there were migratory birds. How was I to ever keep up with these ever-changing birds!

Thankfully I developed friendships with people like Bob and Lucy Duncan and Ray and Carol Ascherfeld, who helped me identify birds when I was stumped.  I began to build my birding skills.  A few years ago a patrol on Pensacola Beach was added to my schedule and, when possible, I tried to fill in occasionally at Santa Rosa, all the while noticing the difference a few miles could make in various bird species and colonies.  Fascinating!

Life on the coast is a treasure, for sure.  From sea turtles to sea and shorebirds, we always seem a moment away from a new discovery, a new mystery, or in my case, a new passion.

By D. J. Zemenick