Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Dynamic Coastline - Success in St Augustine

Smyrna Beach receded into the distance and we made our way up through the long thin canal of the Intracostal waterway, surrounded by bird life and the hanging Spanish moss.  We were headed for one of the oldest towns in the USA,  St Augustine Forida.  This town is known for its ancient fort, built by the spanish, and the alleged site of the fountain of youth, but those are mere side attractions to one of the most amazing festivals in Florida, the annual sea turtle festival

The main square in St Augustine is one of the oldest public spaces in the USA.

Katie Jackson of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at the 6th Annual Sea Turtle Festival shows children where the baleen of a whale comes down on her own mouth.

Tara Dodson is the President of Keepers of the Coast, an NGO that supports dialogue between different stakeholders in the community.  As the festival wound down on Sunday she explained that having so many different participants and the full support of the municipality really showed that this coastal community had turned corner and now started to give the natural ocean resources real support and recognition for the "ecosystem service" that they deliver to St. Augustine.

Kati Jackson from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Service sat in front of the baleen jaws of a huge whale, explaining to children and at least one inquisitive journalist how a baleen whale really eats, and why right whales have narrow inlet jaws.  It happens that in fact they are surface feeders and go around hoovering up the phytoplankton that occur on or near the surface of the ocean.  The waters off of Matanzas Bay are the north northern Right Whale's critical breeding habitats, and the huge gentle giants are slowly rebuilding their population here after generations of decline. 

But this was the turtle festival, and here both Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles, the largest in the world, are slowly pulling themselves up the beaches in the darkness of night and painstakingly laying their eggs before dragging themselves back to their watery home.  May is the heavy egg laying season, and we hope to find some of these 800 kilogram creatures over the next few weeks.  Already early one morning near place called Nettle's Island we found a "false crawl" of a loggerhead in the morning, where she had crawled up to the beach but decided to return to the deep before laying her eggs.

With Climate Change, vital turtle habitat will likely be one of the first things to disappear and already there has been a sharp decline in egg laying last year, though no one knows for sure the reason.  This is not true of the festival however.  Six years ago, the first event brought seventy people, but this year more than one thousand five hundred attended.  Slowly people are starting to wake up to the magic of the nature in their own back yards, and that can only be a good thing for people and turtles.

The old entry at the Hotel Ponce De Leon hotel in St Augustine, now a University.

St Augustine Florida.

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