One of the fantasies offered during recent debates over the county’s Leave No Trace ordinance concerned conflict between county beach maintenance crews and turtle patrol volunteers.
Just doesn’t exist, if you ask the experts.
There is no such conflict, said two local patrol leaders this week; if anything, the county’s crews have almost become “turtlers” in their own right.
“They are part of our team in an informal way,” said Janna Rinehart, the permit holder for the Indian Pass Sea Turtle Patrol.
That informality began with similar goals, the safety and cleanliness of the beaches.
Yes, the turtle patrol volunteers are, by permit language, on the beaches first in the mornings, checking for nests, hatchlings and the like.
The beach crews must wait for that work to be done to perform their duties to clean the beaches, but Rinehart said it was not difficult to find a rhythm and process that worked for all.
Jessica Swindall, the volunteer coordinator for the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol, agreed, saying it was simply a question of communication and working toward a common goal.
“Those guys have been great,” Swindall said.
This year, on the peninsula, due to preparations for a beach restoration project, turtle patrol volunteers have been relocating turtle nests to north of Billy Joe Rish Park, Swindall said.
Therefore, there has not been as much interaction with county beach crews this season as during the past two, but nonetheless they had created a system that worked.
“We worked it out so we would survey one part of the beach first and let them do their work while we were surveying the rest of the beach,” Swindall said. “It really worked out.”
She added that the crews were particularly helpful on safety issues, such as filling in holes or ruts dug in the sand by human hands or vehicle tires.
Along Indian Pass beaches, Rinehart said, “turtlers” have even been able to get in some education with the beach crews.
“When we crossed paths, we started training the guys and they learned to recognize false crawls and nests and hatchling tracks, which is really difficult,” Rinehart said.
She said many mornings during the season the crews would be walking down after opening the gate onto the Eglin beach and would point turtle patrol volunteers to nests, false crawls and the like.
“If they found a nest they would signal us,” Swindall said. “They are part of our team, almost.”
Those beach crews, Rinehart noted, have some 30 parks and restrooms to clean and maintain, not just the miles of local beaches.
She said Indian Pass beaches have rarely looked cleaner, despite the controversy surrounding Leave No Trace.
She will also acknowledge Indian Pass beaches are broader and deeper than on the peninsula or St. Joe Beach.
On top of that, she said, the beach is, in effect, open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Someone wants to drive on the beach at night, there is little to stop them.
To demand that the small beach crews, just a handful of employees, be able to keep all beaches free of abandoned property is “illogical.”
But her central message, one she had been unable to offer during the recent Board of County Commissioners meeting on LNT, is two-fold.
One, beach maintenance is not controlled by turtle patrols.
Those volunteers have no enforcement powers.
But, more importantly, the county’s beach crews and turtle patrol volunteers are more or less two peas of the same pod, teammates in maintaining a healthy and safe beach.
“It is a team, a beach team,” Rinehart said.