The Fourth of July weekend brings visitors in droves to the beaches of Gulf County.




The Fourth of July weekend brings visitors in droves to the beaches of Gulf County.

Not just the humans, but plenty of the four-legged crawling variety as well.

The upcoming holiday weekend is not only the busiest holiday of the year for tourism, but also the peak of the sea turtle nesting season, already well underway.

So, the folks the Florida Coastal Conservancy figure, what better time to celebrate the co-existence of turtle and human?

Hence, the second annual Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival to be held July 2 along Village Drive and George Core Park in Port St. Joe.

“We have all those people who are visiting and all those turtles on the beach, that is the best time to educate and get our message out,” said Jessica Swindall of the Florida Coastal Conservancy.

“The festival is an education and outreach event. The Fourth of July holiday is the perfect time to educate people about sea turtles and what we all can do to help them.”


And, that education, not only about turtles but what humans can do to facilitate safe and healthy nesting on local beaches, seems, by all indications, to be finding purchase on the human side of the equation.

Local turtle patrols report increased volunteer interest and Swindall said that the Leave No Trace ordinance passed by the county several years ago is making inroads.

“The beaches look a lot better this year,” Swindall said. “It’s not perfect yet, but I think this is a pivotal year.

“I think people have become more aware about keeping the beaches clean and why, the importance for the turtles. We see people every morning carrying their chairs and tents back out to the beach and in the evening we see people picking their stuff up.”

Thus far this season, which began in May, there have been no incidents, at least along St. Joseph Peninsula, of nesting turtles being constrained, or even denied nesting altogether, due to debris on the beach, Swindall said.

“People just need to remember the turtles are out there, too,” she added. “They need to remove their stuff, leave the beach flat, no sand castles or holes in the sand.

“We just want them to remember to clean the beaches for everybody.”

And, she added, in general, visitors embrace the concept, nurturing an eco-tourist mindset that has been part of the recent evolution of tourism marketing and outreach in Gulf County.

“I think it is a great draw, a great selling point,” Swindall said. “People can come here and have an encounter with a turtle in the bay or in the gulf, They can have an encounter with wildlife.

“That is a great selling point for this area.”

And, at least so far, the sea turtle season is playing out to a celebratory soundtrack.

As of Monday, the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol had counted, marked and protected, 74 nests with 110 false crawls, an indication a turtle has come ashore with a thought of nesting but returned to the water.

“False crawls are part of nesting season, nesting activities, so it just an indication there is a lot of activity on the beach,” Swindall said. “Last year was a record-breaker and right now we are 13 behind in nests, but have double the false-crawls.

“So, there is a lot of activity on the beach. We’ve had a pretty good start to the season.”

And the recent heavy rains haven’t, pardon the pun, dampened that activity.

Over the weekend, after a day of rains, volunteers found and marked eight nests in a single morning.