Before the sand comes down, the sea turtle eggs have to be brought up.
And then put back down three miles away.
A crucial but often overlooked aspect of undertaking a beach restoration project in the middle of the summer is that the work will also be performed at the height of sea turtle nesting season.
So, while it may not be a bustling season along St. Joseph Peninsula, the turtle patrol volunteers surveying that six-mile stretch of beach might be as busy as ever.
The reason: the projected August start of a beach restoration project.
To prepare, the turtle patrol has been charged with relocating turtle nests found in the construction path north.
And, that is not nearly as easy as it was to type or say that sentence.
“We have relocated 41 nests in the construction zone to north outside of the construction zone,” said Jessica Swindall, volunteer coordinator for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.
“It is painstaking work.”
Those 41 nests represent nearly half of the 85 nests found and marked along the peninsula beaches since the May start of nesting season.
“We had a colder winter and historically after colder winters turtle nests are down the next season,” Swindall said.
There is still roughly a month left for actual nesting, Swindall said, but nonetheless this “slower” season will likely not translate into the 200 or so nests found during recent seasons.
But the work of relocation has made the season seem much busier.
The construction path of restoration will begin near the Stump Hole rock revetment and continue to the southern boundary of Billy Joe Rish State Park.
When a nest is discovered along that 3.1 miles of beach, that nest and its precious residents, are being moved to beach north of Rish Park, near the boundary of the peninsula state park.
Depending on location of the original nest, that is trip of several miles.
“We have a little hatchery going out there,” Swindall said with a laugh.
Getting there is something else entirely.
Swindall and two other volunteers underwent training for a month under the supervision of personnel from Ecological Associates.
When a nest is discovered, a careful excavation of the egg chamber takes place, with, for example, a 5-gallon bucket or similarly large container handy.
“We put some of the sand from the top of the nest at the bottom and then we very carefully take each egg and put it in the bucket,” Swindall said, adding she and other volunteers are wearing surgical-type gloves.
The egg chamber, and a typical nest is roughly 60 centimeters by 25 centimeters, is measured to ensure that on the other side of Rish Park volunteers dig a similarly-sized chamber.
Each chamber, typically, will have 100-120 eggs.
While picking out the eggs, the volunteers will also carry as much as mom’s mucous along the way with them; individual turtles pass on key nutrients to their offspring.
“We are changing our gloves with each nest because we don’t want to cross-contaminate any nests or eggs,” Swindall said.
Some of the sand surrounding and beneath the egg chamber is also carried away.
And once the chamber is cleared, on to north of Rish Park to reconstruct, as close to what mom’s flippers created as possible, a new nest.
Once the sand and eggs are safely tucked back below the sand, the typical turtle patrol routine completes the work, wiring over the nest with wooden poles at four corners and crime scene tape.
“It is no joke, it is very hard work,” Swindall said.
And every bit of it must be documented.
The nests will remain inside their new digs until the hatchlings emerge later this summer.
Swindall and the turtle patrol volunteers are not the only ones surveying wildlife within the construction path of beach restoration.
Long-time environmental advocate and turtle patrol leader Barbara Eells is tasked with surveying and documenting any impacts to the shore and water birds along the peninsula.
“My job this time of season will be to count all the birds on the shore, which includes existing nesting or brooding birds, new nesting endeavors and endangered and protected species,” Eells said.
Eells, who has worked with county consulting engineer MRD Associates for years, does not relocate any nests or birds.
“As the sand is pumped I will work every day … then two times per month except during nesting season and then once a month after renourishment,” Eells said.
“Part of my job is to alert the project manager to the nesting areas and brooding areas for birds.”
The beach restoration is scheduled to begin in early August, pending receipt of the $2.8 million the county has coming through the RESTORE Act.
The county’s spending plan and application for the money has been approved; the check is expected this month.
The work will begin near the Stump Hole and move north. The contractor, Manson, is estimating the work will span just 45 days.
Other than the beeping of vehicles moving in reverse, the prospectus for the job indicates the project will not “produce much sound.”
The public will be prohibited from work area, which usually extends about 1,000 feet down the beach and moves with the project’s forward progress.
Temporary fencing will surround the work area while assuring tourists and homeowners access to property.
Because the project will be advancing fairly rapidly, inconveniences should be experienced for only a short time, according to the scope from Manson.