VERO BEACH - Sea turtle nesting season in Indian River County is March 1 through Oct. 31. The non-profit organization Coastal Connections invites everybody to celebrate the season at their inaugural Tipsy Turtle 2 Mile run/walk on Sat., April 10 from 8-11 a.m., rain or shine, at Sexton Plaza in Vero Beach.
The entire plaza from Ocean Grill to Mulligan’s will host all sorts of turtle-related events and education, plus some non-turtle events such as live music by Donnie Haight and adult beverages from Sailfish Brewing Co.
“The two-mile fun run will kick off the morning as we run into sea turtle nesting season,” Coastal Connections Founding Director Kendra Cope told Hometown News. “There will also be other educational opportunities to increase awareness about sea turtle nesting season, and ways that we can all play a role in sea turtle conservation.”
There will be a separate, free run on the beach specifically for children. The adult two-mile race, which is open to any age, requires registration for $30. That run is along Ocean Dr., through Jaycee Park and adjoining neighborhoods, starting and ending at Sexton Plaza. There will also be a silent auction. All funds raised will fund the sea turtle conservation activities of Coastal Connections.
“We will be doing a fun hatchling dash right after the two mile race,” Ms. Cope said. “The hatchling dash is for all of our very young runners, anybody under the age of 10. They will line up on the beach and have to escape predators and human-related threats, portrayed by our volunteers, as they dash their way to the ocean and safety in the Sargasso sea.”
Sargasso is the brown algae that washes up at the beach.
“When hatchlings leave the beach, they find security and safety in these floating algae patches,” Ms. Cope said. “As they leave the beach, that’s where they head for food and shelter and safety from predators.”
During sea turtle nesting season, three species of protected sea turtles emerge at night to lay eggs in the sandy beaches of Indian River County. According to the county’s Public Works Department Coastal Engineering Division, eggs incubate under the sand for 50-60 days, after which emerging hatchlings do their best to locate the water to start their lives. The leatherback sea turtles are generally the first to arrive, with the first nest typically observed by early April.
The county says that turtles who nest on local beaches typically lay four to six nests each season. Each nest is laid about two weeks apart and contains on average 100-120 eggs.
In the 2020 nesting season, Indian River County staff and Coastal Connections counted 6,217 loggerhead nests, 1,154 green nests, and 73 leatherback nests. Cumulatively, Indian River County hosted about 5.6% of the 133,482 nests laid in the state of Florida, according to a preliminary report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Coastal Connections focuses on offering interactive and immersive experiences to help people create a connection with wildlife and incorporate conservation-minded behavior changes into their daily life.
“We have chosen to focus on the human dimension of conservation, how we can all make a difference in the environment, specifically to help protect and conserve sea turtles,” said Ms. Cope. “There’s lots of ways people can do that.”
“One of the core things we do is to provide immersive experiences to help people connect with wildlife. It’s a lot easier to say ‘I’m going to stop using a plastic bag’ once you’ve seen a sea turtle get rescued from a nest and released into the ocean. We build this level of connection with wildlife, particularly sea turtles, through our immersive programs, during which we provide educational information specific to sea turtle biology, local rules, why they exist, what are our big goals, not just as an organization but as a community of scientists. We try to help people better understand and relate to how they can be part of that conservation effort.”
Ms. Cope spoke of specific things anyone can do to help sea turtles.
“People can make simple behavior changes like choosing to reuse bags or bottles. They can also choose to pick up a piece of trash every time they go outside, making the place they visit cleaner than how they found it.”
“They can also support businesses that are known to be sustainable, like businesses that choose to be plastic-free. Support those businesses when you go out to eat dinner. If you buy clothes from a clothing boutique, is it one that recycles their single-use plastics? Those are the businesses that you want to support day-to-day.”
Coastal Connections provides constantly updated information to help people find such businesses.
“One of our initiatives is called Vero Goes Zero,” Ms. Cope said. “We work with local businesses to help them increase their recycling efficiencies, and decrease the amount of single-use plastics that they use in their daily operation. We have a list of those businesses, and that list is constantly growing. So if you’re in Vero Beach we can provide a list of those businesses that are part of Vero Goes Zero. That list is on both our website and Facebook pages.”
All Coastal Connections educational programs are provided free to the public, which makes fundraisers like the Tipsy Turtle run/walk critical.
“We offer our programs for free specifically to invite all audiences and all demographics to come and learn and be part of the conservation story,” said Ms. Cope. “We don’t like to limit attendance by charging to do programs. So when we do these fundraisers, we do it to offset the costs of our programs, so we can offer them for free. These fundraisers let us continue to offer our programs at no cost.”
Another Coastal Connections effort is coastal cleanups. Be on the lookout for a coastal cleanup announcement soon, for late April. That is a great way to meet the turtle activists and explore getting involved.
Sexton Plaza is located at 1060 Beachland Blvd., Vero Beach. Those attending the Tipsy Turtle 2 Mile run/walk can find parking along Ocean Dr. and Cardinal Dr.
Register for the run/walk at https://runsignup.com/Race/FL/VeroBeach/TipsyTurtle2Mile.