Ahead of the Tide and Partners in the News

Sallie O’Hara: Vilano Beach gearing up for sea turtle nesting season

By Sallie O’Hara

“Sea Turtles Dig the Dark!” — that’s the message found on the bumpers of the turtle patrol roving vehicles parked in the North Shores Improvement Association garage bays.

The old firehouse facility on First Street and Meadow Avenue is also the satellite home to the St. Johns County Sheriff deputies who patrol the area. Scott Eastman, director of Eastman Environmental, oversees volunteers monitoring the turtle population’s well-being between April and October every year.

Eastman Environmental was founded in 2010 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting, restoring and conserving coastal and marine habitats through research, education and community involvement initiatives. The group works with international programs to monitor environmental concerns. Its focus in St. Johns County is protecting sea turtles in Mickler’s Beach, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Reserve, Guana River South, Vilano Beach and Crescent Beach. The group recently cleaned up the station and organized the stakes and prepped the vehicles — all ready for action.

In 2015, there were 73 recorded turtle nests in Vilano Beach, according to seaturtle.org. This was the most in the area since data collection began in 2009. About 95 percent of these nests survived, producing thousands of baby turtles ready to embark on their ocean adventures. In addition to sea turtle nesting beach surveys, the group also does sea turtle stranding and salvage, marine debris removal, and sea turtle in-water assessments.

Like Scott’s group, there are now more than 1 billion people every year raising awareness of environmental consciousness. All issues are highlighted during Earth Day on Friday, now in its 46th year. This observance, spearheaded by environmental activists back in 1970, unveils hazards of climate change, plastic pollution, deforestation, oil spills, raw sewage, toxic dumps and the impact of human populations depleting habitats for wildlife.

Scott recently shared a new project, titled “Ahead of the Tide,” a 10-part video series which highlights the effects of sea level rise and climate change through the stories and voices of local Floridians. Rising seas threaten sea turtle populations. This project was supported by organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Oceana, Florida Wildlife Federation, the Florida Climate Institute, The Sea to Shore Alliance, and several others. Go to aheadofthetide.org to learn more. In some of the footage, many will recognize much of the beach and aerial footage in South Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beach. Melanie Cavanaugh (from South Ponte Vedra Turtle Patrol) and Scott make a brief cameo in Chapter 6.

Public attitudes about the environment in the early days changed with the 1962 publication of “Silent Spring,” by Rachel Carsen. This best-selling book raised awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health in America and in 24 countries. The founder of the movement, U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, envisioned public awareness leading to public action.

Consequently, leading to the 50th year celebration in 2020, Earth Day activists have set a goal of planting 7.8 billion trees worldwide. Plant a tree and prevent them from being removed. For our future health and well-being of our environment, take simple actions to protect and appreciate Earth’s resources.

Contact Sallie O’Hara at tarahill@bellsouth.net.

Dates to remember

■ April 20: Vilano Main Street Meeting, 4 p.m., Hampton Inn (95 Vilano Road)

■ April 26: May Street Intersection public meeting, 4:30 p.m., Holiday Inn (Ponce de Leon Boulevard)

■ April 29-30: Fishing for Dreams Tournament, St. Augustine Boating Club, 904-669-2922

Source: Sallie O’Hara: Vilano Beach gearing up for sea turtle nesting season

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