While hay might help absorb any oil that might potentially appear, South Walton Turtle Watch Director Sharon Maxwell is more concerned about the bales obstructing the path of sea turtles that will be coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Nesting season is May 1 - Oct. 31 for the endangered sea turtles, which are protected by the Federal Wildlife Commission. If the nesting mother tries to come ashore and obstructions are in the way, she will go back out to sea without laying her eggs.
“I am disturbed by Walton County's usual knee-jerk reaction to the oil mess and it seems to me they are not thinking this out,” said Maxwell. “We had this with the seawalls and now again. I have not heard one word about (concern for) sea turtles from any Walton County representative. I have not been called nor e-mailed by the powers that be. I have sent the Board of County Commission, sheriff, and environmental people e-mails and asked to be put into the loop but so far, nothing.”
Maxwell saw large bales of straw on the beach at Whale’s Tail Wednesday morning and other volunteers saw them at other spots on the beach.
Maxwell said she can find out nothing about who put the bales on the beach or when it was done. She has called and e-mailed Protective Species and Florida Wildlife Services and neither of them were asked before this was done, she said.
“Folks need to stop and quit listening to a few with ideas and check before they act,” she said. “This can not be done during nesting season without getting permission.”
Maxwell started the Turtle Walk organization in Walton County in 1995 to help protect the endangered sea turtles. While the number of nests continue to diminish, the types of turtles coming ashore has broadened.
“We used to just have greens and loggerheads, but now are finding Kemp Ridleys and Leatherbacks,” she said.
Maxwell believes this phenomenon is due to the increasing amount of light on the beach in Bay and Okaloosa counties.
Maxwell believes there is presently a lot of concern about the impact the oil spill will have on tourism, but not much thought is being given to sea life.
“The sad part is it doesn’t have to be either or. It can be both,” she said. “By putting out bales of hay, we’re grasping at straws. This is the Gulf of Mexico, not a lake or pond.”
However, Maxwell admits that whatever plan is formulated to protect sea life during this catastrophe will not be up to her.
“Our plan will not be our plan but the FWC’s in coordination with FWF. There will probably be a number of plans, depending on what happens,” she said.
Maxwell believes she will probably be given the plan by week’s end and it will be statewide.
“For now, we just keep watching the beaches, looking for nests,” she said.
As of yet, there have been none and Maxwell doesn’t expect there will be until the end of May.
“The water needs to be 81-82 degrees in this area and we’re a far cry from that,” she said.
And if turtles do get caught in the oil spill, Maxwell said she is not sure what the effect would be, but she believes it would kill them.
“Turtles are air breathers and if it gets in their skin, it can’t breathe,” she said.