Volunteer Beach Ambassador Program Gearing Up for 2024 Sea Turtle Nesting Season!

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The Friends of South Walton Sea Turtles (FOSWST) Volunteer Beach Ambassador (VBA) program began in the Spring of 2016 with a dedicated group of 30 volunteers that has grown to a team of over 200 volunteers for the 2024 season!

May 1 is officially the beginning of nesting season for Florida’s Sea Turtles. Each year, thousands of sea turtles nest on Florida’s beaches. Florida beaches are the number one place for sea turtle nests in North America from May to October. Northwest Florida beaches attract many endangered species including Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback and Kemps Ridley. A female will return to the beach where she was born to lay her eggs. “If you’re lucky enough to see it, it’s incredible to watch a 300-400 pound Loggerhead Sea Turtle crawl up the beach, which is no easy task, dig an 18-20 inch hole, deposit her eggs, and then cover them back up with sand and pat it all down, all with only her back flippers,” says Beth Coppedge, President of the FOSWST organization. The whole process takes between 30-60 minutes. However, there are many hazards and further complications for a Momma sea turtle coming back to the beach to lay her hatchlings.

And that’s why the educational efforts of the VBAs are so important. The message is pretty simple: Help Keep our beaches Clean, Dark and Flat so sea turtles can nest successfully. Everyone benefits from clean beaches, and since most of Florida’s sea turtles nest at night, it is important to keep our beaches dark because bright lights can disorient nesting turtles and hatchlings. Filling in holes on the beach is also important so we don’t impede “Momma” from reaching her destination.

VBAs greet our locals and visitors along the beaches, scenic bike paths and throughout our community. While greeting everyone visiting our beaches, the main job of a VBA is to educate them on beach etiquette and county beach ordinances, specifically those codes that directly impact the preservation and safety of our nesting sea turtles. They also pick up trash, fill in holes in the sand, and flatten any sandcastles/art at the end of the day.

There is no requirement on where or when to volunteer. You pick your favorite beach, time and day, and just show up. Students under 18 may also join but must be accompanied by a parent who is also a VBA. Community service hours are logged for each student.

Recruiting is taking place now for the 2024 season. Upon completing a training session and joining the FOSWST ($5 membership fee), you will be provided with a branded shirt and name tag. Training is held in the Walton County’s Visitors Center’s Conference Room. The upcoming training dates are scheduled for Saturday, May 18 and May 25 from 9:30-10:30 AM.

Check out their website at friendsofswseaturtles.org for additional information on how to join the FOSWST organization as a Volunteer.