Ocean Ridge: With money tighter, turtle nests go unmarked

By Thomas R. Collins

Faced with less federal money, and slashes to its own department budget, Palm Beach County has cut back on its surveying of sea turtle nests on a beach that had
been one of the most closely watched.

The stretch of beach, from just north of the Boynton Inlet south nearly to the southern town limit of Ocean Ridge, no longer has every sea turtle nest marked
as it had in the past. But all nests are still counted every day, said Paul
Davis, environmental manager with the county’s Department of Environmental
Resources Management.

He said the change just brings surveying on that beach — which has been done by Boca Raton contractor Db Ecological Services Inc. for the past two nesting
seasons — down to the same level as at other beaches. But it has some
observers concerned about the safety of the nests and the county’s dedication
to protection of the fragile creatures.

The main problem that led to the diminished surveying was that the county was no longer required under a permit for beach renourishment to survey for the sea turtles. When the requirement ran out, so did the federal government’s matching money for the surveying — $64,395. That funding was intended for about half of the Ocean Ridge stretch of beach.

So the county cut what it considered “nonessential.” The county has made up more than $60,000 of what was lost, but it’s not enough to keep things as they were.

“We don’t have the funding to do so as intensively as we have in the past,” Davis said.

The county’s own budget for sea turtle surveying also has continued to decline in recent years, adding to the hardship, Davis said.

He noted that Ocean Ridge has just 115 nests per mile, compared to the county average of 358 nests per mile.

In Delray Beach, the budget for surveying has not been cut, and all nests are counted and marked, senior planner Scott Pape said. “We still do the full turtle survey.”

In Manalapan and Gulfstream, contractors are hired privately for beach cleaning and surveying for sea turtle nests is done as a requirement for those contracts.

Davis said the unmarked nests are not considered to be in jeopardy. Normal beach activities, such as people walking across nests, don’t harm them, he said.
Nests where the markers have been removed have historically been found to
remain viable, he said.

“We don’t believe that there’s a greater risk to the nests,” he said.

Local environmental activist Kim Jones thinks otherwise. She said she runs along the beach every day and has seen unmarked turtle nests in areas where the beaches
are raked to clean them — a big no-no.

“There are nests that are vulnerable that are not even being acknowledged,” she said. “And I tell you, I’m ripped about it.”

She also said nesting may be lower in Ocean Ridge specifically due to the beach renourishment project.

Jones said she has offered to round up volunteers for more extensive surveying, but said the county hasn’t taken her up on it.

She said she doesn’t understand why all nests can’t be marked, since someone is out on the beach every day anyway.

“How difficult is it to just put a stake in the ground, or two or three, like we’ve always done, and just cordon it off?”

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