Share the Beach - Fort Morgan teams continue to find messy beaches while on patrol for sea turtle nests.
Some areas of the beaches in Fort Morgan are worse than others.
“In the last three years, the most significant problem area is Morgantown. The area is mostly rental units. The beach is so cluttered. Share the Beach can only do a foot patrol. The area is impassable with the UTV,” said Debbie Harbin, Share the Beach Fort Morgan team leader.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have the Leave Only Footprints program which reduces waste on the beach through enforceable rules, regulations, and ordinances. The beach patrol removes any items left on the beach an hour after sunset.
Fort Morgan is an unincorporated area with no resources to provide a beach patrol. Harbin has been working to find someone to help.
“I have been to the county commission about it and reached out to Governor Kay Ivey’s office. Nobody has a solution. The county says there is nothing they can do about it. They don't have the resources to come down here,” Harbin sighed.
Every morning at 5:30 a.m., a team of volunteers walk the beach to search for sea turtle tracks and signs of nesting. If nests are located, they are processed and marked off to keep them safe.
“I saw a momma on the beach the night before. We picked up a tent, chairs and boogie boards and moved it so the momma turtle could go back to the water,” Harbin said. “The next morning, we were out processing the nest. A man and his son had been out fishing and had all their stuff. I asked if they knew about the need to pick your stuff up at night. The visitor responded ‘we pick our stuff up, but others don't so others think it’s ok’.”
At the first of the year, Share the Beach sent letters to all the HOA and condo associations in the Fort Morgan area offering brochures and door hangers for guests and residents. No direct responses were received. One rental agency, Reed Real Estate, asked for brochures to add to their new guest packets.
Many condo complexes have done away with old wood loungers in favor of folding chairs that can be moved off the beach or stacked. Kiva Dunes and the Beach Club keep their beaches pristine and turtle friendly, according to Harbin.
The Gulf Coast is the nesting area for Loggerhead, Kemp's Ridley and Green sea turtles. Sources vary, but according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, all three species that nest on the Gulf Coast are considered endangered.
Keeping the beaches clean and using turtle safe lighting is key to successful nesting. Recently a momma turtle wandering for more than 2 hours on the beach after nesting due to light disorientation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is working closely with the Share the Beach teams across the area to track instances of light disorientation. A report is filed for each instance of light disorientation, and the homeowners are notified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife on how to change out lighting to become turtle friendly.
Turtle nesting season runs May, 1 through Aug. 31. Nests typically hatch mid-October. Here are some guidelines to follow during turtle nesting season:
• Avoid using flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night, as sea turtles use the moonlight as their guide when nesting.
• After dark, turn off outside patio lights and turn off all lights inside when not in use.
• Do not disturb sea turtle nests.
• Leave nothing on the beach each night. Female turtles will turn away and go back to the water if obstacles such as chairs, tents, and toys are in their way.
• Do not dig large holes in the sand. Holes are a hazard for turtles and people.
• Should you spot a nest that hasn't been marked off, or see a sea turtle emergency, report it by calling 866-SEA-TURTLE.
Harbin’s request is simple, “Visitors please removed tents, chairs, and toys from the beach every night. At the very least, stack and secure all beach items. Leave room for turtles to crawl around. Remember, enclosed tents and sun shelters pose a danger to turtles as well. Turtles can become stuck inside or tear the netting with flippers. Also please fill in holes that you have dug on in the sand.”