AMELIA ISLAND SEA TURTLE WATCH, INC
The Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, Inc. (AISTW) was formed in 1985 to integrate a variety of activities focused on the conservation of Amelia Island's nesting sea turtle population. The original group was spawned from and interest of Greenpeace and the Florida Department of Natural Resources (FDNR) to determine the status of sea turtle nesting activity on Amelia Island. Greenpeace supported the group until 1988 when we became incorporated.
We are motivated by concern over the decline in nesting sea turtles brought on by commercial, developmental, and recreational pressures and a sense of responsibility to moderate the adverse impact of human activities along our shore. AISTW's primary function is to survey Amelia Island's beaches during May through October, the months of sea turtle nesting and hatchling emergence, to enhance nesting success and to collect accurate data on nesting activity.
In May of each year survey areas are assigned to volunteers trained in survey procedures. Volunteers locate nests, crawls, or stranding s and report to the coordinator. In areas where vehicular traffic, beach lighting, or beach renourishment activity impacts the viability of nests, clutches are relocated to safer areas of the beach for incubation and monitoring.
The data we collected in the early years led to our participation in an Index Nesting Survey project conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), formerly FDNR. The long-term project collects data from selected beaches along Florida's coast in an effort to determine nesting trends in our sea turtle population. The original project lasted for 10 years, ending in 1998. The 1999 nesting season began our second decade of participation in this project.
We have also participated in a genetic research project by the University of Florida to determine the genetic relationship of sea turtles nesting in Florida. From this research, it was determined that the sea turtles nesting on Amelia Island are separate family of turtles nesting elsewhere in Florida. Our population is directly related to turtles nesting in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. This finding has great implications in conservation effort in Florida and these other states.
Central to our endeavor is public awareness of the need for sea turtle conservation. Slide presentations to schools and community groups, periodic newsletters to supporters, public nest excavations, and reports of our activities in both print and electronic media augment our educational efforts.
Our efforts also take an advocacy role. In 1987 we successfully lobbied for lighting restrictions on both county and city beaches during nesting season. We still work with governing agencies and beachfront residents to minimize the effects of artificial beachfront lighting on emerging hatchlings.
The data we collected in the early years was also instrumental in developing the use of the Turtle Excluder Device (TED) by commercial fishing industry. Our efforts to alert officials to the high incidence of strandings along our shore fed into a statewide database used to enact commercial fishing regulations in offshore waters.
We are asked by the US Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that seat turtle nests are not adversely impacted by summer beach renourishment projects. We monitor daily activity, document, and relocate clutches laid in areas to be covered by renourished sand.
Each year new residents, seasonal visitors and the general public join the AISTW's sea turtle monitoring efforts. We frequently receive calls requesting information on all marine resources. We respond to situations involving marine birds, whales, dolphins, and manatees.
Our group has grown over the past 20 years from a core group of about 6 to a group of 14 permitted volunteers and approximately 60 regular volunteers. As our group grows, our efforts become more consistent and reliable. We have documented as few as 30 nests in a season to as many as 150 nests in another season. While the numbers of sea turtles nesting each year varies, our efforts have become more consistent and point to flat or even declining trend in loggerhead nesting
Our volunteers are on the beach at sunrise everyday from May through August, seeking signs of sea turtle activity the previous night. Beachfront residents and visitors will frequently meet us on the beach to awe at the sight of a turtle crawl in the sand being lit by the sun peeking over the horizon.
We have documented 3 species of turtles nesting on Amelia Island. Loggerheads, green turtles, and leatherbacks have found Amelia Island a suitable habitat for the incubation of their precious clutches. We truly have a valuable resource and will continue to preserve their most precious part of our natural heritage.