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Lockley opposes expansion of turtle protections

County Commissioner Noah Lockley is not a fan of turtles.

He reiterated this point several times last week, at a public hearing on a proposed revision of the county’s Leave No Trace ordinance intended to strengthen protections of the  vital sea turtle nursery, and extend the affected shoreline further east to Carrabelle, Alligator Point and Bald Point.

“I’m not a turtle fan, I’m not a turtle fan and I’m not a tree fan,” he said, speaking out prior to any public comment. “They do everything in the world for the turtles, and then they go to Mexico and go up there and the people eat them. They protect them here, and once they hit that water, they don’t monitor them or nothing else. They go to other countries, and they good eating.

“They got those people spending millions of dollars in those houses, for lights and everything,” he continued. “I’m tired of turtles having more say; turtles are more protected than people. Florida Power will cut your lights off.

“I’m not a turtle fan, never been,” Lockley said. “That’s just one man’s opinion. I just don’t like turtles.”

He and the four other commissioners last week were addressing the draft by County Attorney Michael Shuler of a proposed amending of the 2014 ordinance. From the outset of their discussions, they were hesitant to approve it in its entirety, concerned whether to ban fires on the beach, which was a suggestion made just prior to the meeting from a member of the public, and not included in the advertised draft.

There were also questions about extending Leave No Trace, which requires items not be left overnight on the beach, to Carrabelle. This condition is explicit in the draft.

The amendments would make anyone who leaves holes on the “public beach” unattended, or fails to fill them back to natural grade prior to their leaving, a second-degree misdemeanor. This could subject the sand scofflaw to up to 60 days in jail, six-months probation, and a maximum fine of $500.

Lockley’s opposition to the legislation became clear when he sought to contain including fire in the ordinance change.

“We got to be careful how we do that,” he said. “If someone is fishing in wintertime and get cold, and want to warm up, I don’t think they should be fined to keep from freezing to death. Make sure we have the right wording, look out for the workers.”

Chairman Ricky Jones said since sea turtle nesting season runs from May through September, “I think we can word it in such a way that it wouldn’t be detrimental.”

Shuler underscored the point. “I think it (nesting) is clearly over with before we get into the cold winter months,” he said.

The proposed amendment defines what would be considered public beach as the legislation is expanded. This would be the area landward from the mean low-water line of the St. George Sound to the frontal dune, or where there is no frontal dune, to the line of permanent vegetation or construction, whichever is more seaward. The legislation included maps demarcating this area in the affected beachfronts. The areas do not include Dog Island or Eastpoint, or in the case of the island, neither the state park, the Plantation or Little St. George.

“Turtles trying to nest inside the dunes? I’ve never heard of that,” said Commissioner Smokey Parrish. “They want you to amend other things. It seems like to me the board, maybe we need to rewrite the whole ordinance, rewrite the whole darn thing instead of having public hearings to amend this and amend that.”

Commissioner Jessica Ward said Carrabelle city officials asked her to have verbiage pertaining to the city omitted. “Maybe it’s best we table this to the future, so we’re not readdressing and reinventing the wheel,” she said.

Parrish said the inclusion was because the two campgrounds outside of the public beach are inside the city limits. “I can see why the attorney included this,” he said. “He wants everyone to be aware that the beach is within the county’s jurisdiction, and they’ll be compelled to comply.”

Jones confronted Lockley’s argument that visitors spending good money for a week-long vacation should not be forced to take their beach set-up in every night.

“I can see if they leave it after they leave. But why do they have to walk that stuff back and forth every day, behind the turtles?” Lockley said.

“Us asking people to move stuff off the beach is not that big of an issue for me,” Jones said. “We’re asking them to leave it the way they found it. We don’t have that much beach here; we just want it to stay the way it was when they got here.

“It would be best to have input from citizens,” he said.

There was no scarcity of aquatic reptile aficionados willing to step forward to speak.

‘People can live in harmony with the turtles”

Georgia Ackerman, with Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said the organization supported the ordinance changes. “The ecology and the economy of our region is closely connected,” she said. “We would be happy to participate and in helping that process.”

Belinda Wharton, a volunteer in Carrabelle who works with shorebird protections as well as turtles, said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could provide additional data.

Shannon Bothwell, a sea turtle patrol volunteer on St. George Island, stressed the county has the highest density of endangered sea turtles nesting in northwest Florida, mostly in its barrier islands.

“Other communities do ban recreational fires on beach, in Panama City and Daytona Beach. You can’t have recreational bonfires; the light from the bonfire is distracting and turtles can be injured if they walk through. It’s a commonsense thing.

“Having debris on the beach makes it physically difficult (for hatchlings) to reach the ocean,” she said. “It is an obstacle.”

Bothwell said turtle nests are “an important enhancement for our community and an attraction.

“They (visitors) want to bring their kids, it’s the highlight of their vacation on St. George Island, to know they had a turtle nest right outside the house they’re renting,” she said.

Bothwell said while some turtles do not make it up as far as the dunes to nest, “a number of them prefer to be up in the dune.”

Lockley pressed the turtle volunteer regarding the timing of nesting season that overlaps with the busiest part of the tourist season.

“I guess it would be fine if we just close the beaches during that time?” he asked.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Bothwell replied. “I think that people can live in harmony with the turtles if we help folks understand what their responsibility is to just leave no trace.”

Kimberly Crossen, now in her fifth season with the island’s sea turtle patrol, told commissioners that of the 23 nests she monitors in the mile or so outside the Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island State Park, 19 are high in the dune.

“My ask is that we completely (require items be) removed from the beach,” she said. “Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, Mexico Beach, everybody asks that people remove their items from the beach.

“We’re trying to live in harmony with these turtles,” she said. “We definitely don’t want to close that beach; I think we can do it better. Not only is it (holes and debris) a hazard to the turtles but it’s a hazard to first responders as well. A lot of obstacles left on the beach and trying to drive on it will impede getting to the humans as well.”

Crossen told Lockley an effort is made to tag the turtles to assist in research. She also noted the taking of turtles in Mexico for human consumption has been outlawed for several decades.

“We can’t control Mexico, what we can control is St. George Island,” she said. “We are all related, it’s a circle, what happens in the ocean is going to affect us as well.”

Lockley said when he worked as a commercial fisherman, the requirement that shrimpers have a turtle excluder device cut into livelihoods.

“You’re protecting the turtles but you’re starving me,” he said.

“I don’t think you’re starving,” Crossen replied gently. “But if you are, you can come to my house and I’ll be glad to make you dinner.”

She invited the commissioner to join her on a walk along the beach, but he declined.

“Nah,” he said. “I am still not going to like the turtles. I don’t like turtles and I don’t like people telling me I can’t cut my tree.”

Commissioner Bert Boldt said he would just as soon ban all fires altogether, or have a designated place for them. “It junks the beach, and it’s an impairment for foot traffic,” he said.

“They are not just using wood, they are using construction debris, using pressure-treated lumber that has nails in it,” Crossen said. “Now that that toddler has a chance to step on nails.”

Janice Becker, who has coordinated the sea turtle patrol for six years, said volunteers frequently find huge holes in the sand, which affect both turtles and people. County Coordinator Michael Morón said crews under the direction of Sheriff A.J. Smith and Solid Waste Director Fonda Davis have often had to fill in large holes.

“My team isn’t on the beach until 6 a.m., and hatchlings can be trapped in holes overnight, which gives predators easy access to the hatchlings,” Becker said.

She called for a ban on fires, whose light can disorient the turtles, and for all beach gear to be taken off the beach at night.

“I can go along with no fires, I’ll vote on that if you’ll take the turtle part out of it,” said Lockley. “I’ll vote on not digging a hole if you take that turtle part out. As far as public safety, I’ll protect the people because that’s part of my job.”

In the end, the commissioners voted unanimously to table the ordinance, in an effort to bring all the relevant considerations into a comprehensive re-write.

“I voted for the people, and not the turtles,” said Lockley.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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