Beach restrictions begin Sunday

Communication Manager Karen Pan in the Office of the County Administrator reminds Historic City News readers that the sea turtles are on their way back to nest on the beaches of St. Johns County as the official nesting season begins this Sunday, May 1st.

To ensure compliance with the St. Johns County Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit, which protect five species of sea turtles and the native Anastasia Island Beach Mouse, beach driving and lighting restrictions also go into effect starting Sunday.

Between May 1 and October 31, vehicular traffic on the beach is allowed between the hours of 8:00 am and 7:30 pm. After 7:30 pm no vehicles are allowed to enter the beach until the gates are opened the following morning at 8:00 am. Additionally, all beachfront properties are required to reduce the impacts their lights have on the beaches and eliminate all non-compliant interior and exterior lights.

About Sea Turtles: St. Johns County is home to several species of endangered or threatened sea turtles that arrive every spring and summer to nest along our beaches. County residents and visitors have a special opportunity and responsibility to protect these magnificent creatures and their vulnerable nest and feeding grounds.

Record Breaking 2010 Season: The 2010 season was record-breaking for St. Johns County with a total of 867 turtle nests on the 41 miles of beaches, including over 56,000 hatchlings. This is the most since the County began keeping records in 1988 and far above the previous annual average of 255. Already in 2011, two nests have been documented on St. Johns County beaches.

Guidelines for Beach Use: Beach visitors are encouraged to protect sea turtle nesting habitat while enjoying a diversity of activities including beach driving, horseback riding, recreational fishing and commercial fishing. In addition to following the regulated beach driving hours and lighting restrictions, residents and visitors are encouraged to follow these guidelines:

Use trash and recycling receptacles at the beach.

Remove ruts and fill in holes left by vehicles and sand castle building.

Do not leave chairs, umbrellas or canopies on the beach over night (they will be removed).

Flashlights, fireworks and open fires are strictly prohibited.

All pedestrian activities (sitting, standing, storing personal property, driving, horseback riding, etc.) are prohibited in the sand dunes and the Conservation Zone (15 feet seaward of the dune line).

Please refrain from using balloons for events, as they fall into the ocean and can harm marine life.

Leave only your footprints, providing the turtles with a safe and clean habitat in which to nest.

Do not disturb or handle any sea turtles, their eggs or nests. Endangered species are protected by County, State and Federal Laws with fines up to $20,000.

If you encounter an injured, sick or dead sea turtle, please call the St. Johns County Coastal Wildlife pager at (904) 227-0023.

St. Johns County thanks residents and visitors for supporting habitat conservation efforts and keeping our beaches beautiful.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by St. Johns County

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