Dune Doctors team

Dune Doctors team run Seaside School 5K Race

It was Feb. 19, the day of the Seaside School Half Marathon & 5K. After a spirited team huddle, I wobbled over to the starting line. Turtle shell glistening, beak clamped, flippers pointed. Off I jogged with my brother Alex, three dune sunflowers, two Dune Doctors, and eleven runners in tow.

One by one, my teammates raced off and left me behind, each representing a hero in the coastal cycle of erosion and restoration. As a sea turtle, I was born for this. I was born a racer.

The second I left my nest, I knew I had to outpace hungry crabs, birds, raccoons and fish on the race toward my sargassum seaweed nursery. My only clue on how to get there was the glimmering horizon illuminated by the moon’s reflection on the water.

I’m lucky because my mom safely laid me along Seaside, on a beach cared for by people who understand my attraction to bright lights. I emerged from my nest at night, with dark dunes behind me that blocked human-made lights. Ahead was a single warm glow, calling me to the water.

A couple of decades have since passed, and I’ve reached adulthood. I return to Seaside every other year and only come ashore to nest. However, this time an exception. On a balmy winter morning, I surfaced for a breath and noticed a peculiar bunch. They were digging along the beach as I do; but, instead of eggs, they placed dune sunflowers and sea oats in the holes.

I swam ashore and the rest is history. I became friends with the Dune Doctors who help preserve and restore my nesting habitat by installing native plants along the dunes.

When I found out they needed racers for the Seaside School Half Marathon & 5K, I volunteered.

This was my chance to venture beyond the sugar-white sand and explore the brackish dune lakes and ancient maritime forests the pelicans like to gabble about to non-flying sea creatures. Also, Dune Doctors told me this race would benefit the nest (humans call it a school) where Seaside incubates their hatchlings.

Fueled by the spirit of adventure, I convinced my brother Alex to join me, and we began coming ashore to train, tracking laps along the beach (I’m sure we confused the nice people at the South Walton Sea Turtle Patrol. Don’t worry. We’re okay, guys!)

Fast forward to race day. Our team may have looked like a funny group, but we were prepared to give it our all, counting on the coastal winds to propel us to Olympic glory. Drew Beroset, whom I’m convinced is part osprey, won the 5K, completing the course in a swift 17:01 minutes at only 10 years old. Shortly behind him, my other teammates swept the race, earning Dune Doctors first place in four age group categories.

I buddied up with one of our dune sunflowers, Claire, and we finished the race in a record-setting 101 minutes for a turtle-flower duo. Overjoyed with the results, we settled into a morning of festivities and were ecstatic to find out we also won the prize for the largest corporate team.

I was exhausted but pleased by the end of the weekend. Riding my jogger’s high, I danced to the rock tunes played by the Seaside School band and rallied around my teammates. After finishing our refreshing mimosas from Modica Market, my brother and I trekked back to the emerald gulf where a feast of sea sponges, jellyfish and crunchy urchins awaited us. My first Seaside 5K was a joyous adventure, and I promise to race again.

In the meantime, you will find me and my hatchlings along the beach during turtle nesting season from May through October.


How to show sea turtles love and support

Keep beaches clean, pick up litter and debris.

Fill in holes you see on the beach.

Gulf-front homeowners, if you have sand fences with jagged wires or broken wood, or if they are installed less than seven feet apart, address these hazardous traps. Dune Doctors, at (866) 386-3737, will help you replace the old fences with new ones designed to not interfere with nesting.

Remember that turtles are attracted to lights. Well-established, vegetated dunes help block man-made lights, but if your porch lights are visible from the beach, use amber-colored light bulbs that are less visible to turtles.

If you would like to help protect, survey and rescue us sea turtles, you can volunteer with the South Walton Turtle Watch, our local sea turtle patrol group. See https://www.southwaltonturtlewatch.org/

Save the South Walton Turtle Emergency Hotline, (850) 865-4503, as a contact in your phone and call to report all sightings.

Never push or attempt to move stranded animals back to the water. Call the South Walton Turtle Emergency Hotline.

Thank you for all of your support in protecting sea turtles.

Photo credit notes:

Include the watermark on the sea turtle photos provided by Lacie Wegner. “Photo by Lacie Wegner: FWC MTP-120”

Include this text warning below images, “FWC NOTICE: It is unlawful to interfere, handle or disturb sea turtles, their nests, and hatchlings. These photos were taken during routine, permitted FWC activities by permitted individuals.”

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