It’s February 19th, the day of the 2023 Seaside 5K and half Marathon. After a spirited team huddle, I wobbled over to the start line. Turtle shell glistening, beak clamped, flippers pointed! GO! Off I jogged with my brother Alex, three dune sunflowers, two Dune Doctors, and eleven runners in toe.
Slowly one by one, my teammates raced off and left me behind, each representing a hero in the ongoing thriller of 30A’s coastal cycle of erosion and restoration. As a sea turtle, I was born for this. I was born a racer.
As a sea turtle, I was born a racer.
The second I left my nest, I knew I had to outpace hungry crabs, birds, raccoons, and fish on the race toward my Sargassum Seaweed nursery. My only clue on how to get there was the glimmering horizon illuminated by the moon’s reflection on the water.
I am lucky because my mom safely laid me along Seaside, a beach cared for by people who understand my attraction to bright lights. The night I emerged from my nest, behind me were dark, vegetated dunes that blocked human-made lights, and ahead was a single warm glow, calling me to the water. I safely made it.
A couple of decades have since passed, and I’ve reached adulthood. I return to Seaside every other year and only come ashore to nest. However, this time would mark an exception. On a balmy winter morning, I surfaced for a breath and noticed a peculiar bunch. They were digging along the beach as I do but, instead of eggs, they placed dune sunflowers and sea oats in the holes.
I swam ashore to check them out and the rest is history. I became friends with the Dune Doctors who help preserve and restore my nesting habitat by installing native plants along the dunes.
When I found out they needed racers for the Seaside Half Marathon and 5K, I volunteered.
This was my chance to venture beyond the sugar-white sand and explore the brackish dune lakes and ancient maritime forests the pelicans like to gabble about to us non-flight sea creatures. Also, Dune Doctors told me this race would benefit the nest (humans call it a school) where Seaside incubates their hatchlings.
Fueled by the spirit of adventure, I convinced my brother Alex to join me, and we began coming ashore to train, tracking laps along the beach (I’m sure we confused the nice people at the South Walton Sea Turtle Patrol with our false crawls – Don’t worry. We’re okay guys!)
Fast forward to Race Day, our team may have looked like a funny group, but we were prepared to give it our all, counting on the coastal winds to propel us to Olympian glory! Trust me they did. Drew Beroset, who I’m convinced is part osprey, won the 5K, completing the course in a swift 17:01 min at only 14 years old! Shortly behind him, my other teammates also swept the race, earning Dune Doctors first place in four age group categories.
I buddied up with one of our dune sunflowers Claire, and we finished the race in a record setting 101 min for a turtle-flower duo! Overjoyed with the results, we settled into a morning of festivities and were ecstatic to find out we also won the prize for the largest corporate team.
I was exhausted but pleased by the end of the weekend. Riding my jogger’s high, I danced to the rock tunes played by the Seaside School band and rallied around my teammates. We did it! After finishing our refreshing Modica mimosas, my brother and I trekked back to the emerald gulf where a feast of sea sponges, jellyfish, and crunchy urchins awaited us. My first Seaside 5K was a joyous adventure, and I promise to race again!
In the meantime, you will find me and my hatchlings along the beach during Turtle Nesting Season from May through November.
How to Show Your Native Sea Turtles Some Love
If you would like to help make my nesting habitat safer, please:
1. Keep my beaches clean and remember to fill in any holes.
2. To gulf-front homeowners, if you have sand fences with jagged wires, broken wood, or that are installed less than 7ft apart, please address these hazardous traps! My friends at Dune Doctors (866-386-3737) will help you replace the old fences with new ones designed to not interfere with my nesting.
3. Next, please remember that we are attracted to lights! Well-established, vegetated dunes help block man-made lights, but if your porch lights are visible from the beach, please use amber-colored light bulbs that are invisible to our eyes.
4. Next, please remember that we are attracted to lights! Well-established, vegetated dunes help block man-made lights, but if your porch lights are visible from the beach, please use amber-colored light bulbs that are invisible to our eyes.
5. If you would like to help protect, survey and rescue us sea turtles, you can volunteer with the South Walton Turtle Watch, our local sea turtle patrol group! SouthWaltonTurtleWatch.org.
6. Next, please save the South Walton Turtle Emergency Hotline (850) 865-4503 as a contact in your phone.
7. Finally, never push or attempt to move stranded animals back to the water! Please call the turtle hotline.
FWC NOTICE: It is unlawful to interfere, handle or disturb sea turtles, their nests, and hatchlings. These photos were taken during routine, permitted FWC activities by permitted individuals.
Thank you for all of your support in protecting my family! See you at the beach!