Annual festival has grown each year



The Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival began with humble roots.

The first celebration, in 2016, was headquartered in the roundabout along Marina Drive in Port St. Joe.

Last year, the festival turnout was so large that the festival spilled into adjacent George Core Park, which proved not only more spacious but also a tad less warm than the concrete of Marina Drive.

This year’s edition, which will arrive July 1, will spread further into George Core Park while maintaining its original footprint along Marina Drive.

For it is along Marina Drive, which will host a variety of educational booths and vendors, that a monument to sea turtles will rise, in an area that was once a fountain.

Local artist Alex Henderson has completed the fabrication of the dominant turtle in the statue and is currently working on the sea grass that will adorn the bottom of the fountain.

The Sea Turtle Festival, and the monument, are central to the mission of the Florida Coastal Conservancy, the non-profit arm of the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.

“The purpose of the festival is to educate attendees about sea turtles and the importance of the coastal habitats they and many other species call home,” said Jessica Swindall, coordinator of the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.

“In addition to raising environmental awareness, this event serves as a fundraiser for the Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Center in George Core Park and to raise funds for the sea turtle sculpture.”

In March, the Conservancy established an online fundraising campaign for completion of the sculpture.

“Every year, more and more visitors discover our work on behalf of the sea turtles, and they keep in touch on social media from all over the world,” Swindall said. “We’re seeing increasing interest and outreach from travelers who want to participate in beach walks, adopt nests, and generally learn more about our efforts. Crowdsourcing can reach these supporters and hopefully, even more conservation-minded people worldwide.”

Utilizing the online service, Go Fund Me, the Conservancy set up an online fundraising page, sharing information on the fountain project, and asking for donations in any amount. All donations are tax-deductible and donors will receive a receipt from the online service, just as they would by donating locally.

Construction of the sculpture is ongoing and fundraising options include donors at the $100 and $200 levels to have a name or message engraved on a paver surrounding the fountain, as part of the permanent installation.

The goal of the online fundraising is $10,000.

“We’ve already raised enough money to begin construction of the sculpture, but site prep and other expenses will need to be met, so we set a goal of $10,000,” Swindall said.

“The Sea Turtle Fountain will be a lasting visual reminder of the importance of the sea turtle to local history and will lead visitors to further educational and volunteer opportunities at the Sea Turtle Center.”

Those wishing to participate in the Sea Turtle Festival as vendors are asked to email