Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Volunteers Help When Sea Turtles 'Wash Back'; Those Trained in a Program Increase the Endangered Animals' Chances of Survival

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Volunteers Help When Sea Turtles 'Wash Back'; Those Trained in a Program Increase the Endangered Animals' Chances of Survival

Article excerpt

Byline: SHAKAYA ANDRES

PONTE VEDRA BEACH - Sea turtles' chances for survival are a slim one in 1,000, but St. Johns County habitat conservation officials said this week that they're hopeful new volunteer recruits will help curtail that trend.

Tara Dodson, county conservation coordinator, held two training courses, at the Ponte Vedra Beach branch library and at the main library in St. Augustine, to recruit volunteers to assist in the county's sea turtle "washback" program.

"It's important because sea turtles are endangered and their survivability has decreased," she told about two dozen volunteers looking to become authorized "washback" surveyors. "This is just one more important step to protect the sea turtles."

The program, which was implemented last year, strives to help to minimize the impact nature and humans have on protected turtle species that wash up on to the beach.

Post-hatchling sea turtles, referred to as "washbacks," are found washed back after trying to make it to the ocean, atop seaweed on the beach, also called a wrack line. They're also found nearby on the sand or trying to crawl back to the water. They measure 5 to 10 centimeters and their shells often contain algae or gooseneck barnacles.

"Last year we had such a high wrack line in South Florida," Dodson said. "It was up to my thigh."

In 2008, conservation officials counted five live and two dead washbacks compared to 133 the previous year. The number of hurricanes, high tides and other inclement weather conditions contributed to the number of turtles washed ashore, Dodson said.

"It did decrease, but we didn't have as big as nor'easter storm as we did the year before," she said.

In the wake of a storm, post-hatchling sea turtles are usually exhausted and dehydrated.

Environmental specialist Meghan Koperski of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said conducting surveys helps save post hatchlings that wash ashore.

"Without conducting these surveys, the hatchlings might get run over by vehicles on the beach," she said.

Also, Dodson said, post-hatchling sea turtles washed ashore after a large storm are in dire need of medical attention. …

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