On Sunday morning, July 12, three members of the North Ponte Vedra Sea Turtle Patrol found themselves on the beach filling in an enormous hole someone had dug in the sand. The hole, which was several feet deep and wide enough to accommodate a small car, was located behind the 400 block of Ponte Vedra Boulevard.
The task took more than half an hour, but the volunteers recognized the danger posed by the hazardous excavation. Hatchlings from nearby sea turtle nests might have fallen in.
“If they had gotten into that hole, they wouldn’t have made it,” said patrol member Sandy Stam. She pointed out the importance of protecting the hatchings as they make their trek to the sea: the species is endangered, and only about one in 1,000 of the young survive.
But sea turtles were not the only ones at risk of tumbling into such a hole.
“It was a danger to people, especially at night,” Stam said. “People could fall in and get hurt.”
While the large hole is a dramatic example of risk to sea turtles, it is not the only one. Stam said children often dig holes in the sand that could be dangerous to the hatchlings as they crawl toward the ocean.
“If you dig a hole,” she said, “fill it in.”
Another risk is debris left on the beach. Hatchlings can become entangled in it.
The sea turtle patrol conducted a beach clean-up July 5 and found fireworks, chairs, boogie boards and umbrellas.
“The amount of trash was unbelievable,” said Stam. “I don’t know why people coming to a lovely beach leave their trash.”
She also asked those who bring a tent to the beach to take it with them when they leave. And bright lights or flashlights should not be used on the beach as they disorient the hatchlings, something that could prove fatal to them.
Sea turtle season is May 1 through Oct. 31 or until the last nest is vacated.