Monday, July 20, 2009

Beach Cleanup Guidelines

We ask that all of our members and volunteers strictly adhere to these guidelines as they do beach cleanups, whether in response to crude oil making its way onshore from offshore drilling spills or just as a means of keeping local beaches pristine and free of man-made debris.

"Best Practices" for Shorebirds

Shorebirds and seabirds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance during their nesting season, which runs from April through August. The following guidelines should be followed for any beach cleanup during nesting season:
  • Do not go out on the beach for cleanup activities after dark.
  • Do not approach or enter nesting areas. Most of these will be marked with posts and signs, but not all of them. If you notice birds in the area that are acting agitated, calling or swooping at you, there is a good possibility you are in an active nesting area. You should retreat the way you approached, and leave the area. If you must continue, do so at or below the tide line (i.e. the very edge of the water).
  • Minimize any activities around shorebird and seabird nesting areas. It is best to avoid these sections of the beach altogether.
  • Stay off the dunes and use only approved/official access points. The fewer places we enter the beach, the less likelihood of accidentally stepping on or running over nests or chicks.
  • Stay below the tidal line. Seabirds and shorebirds nest above the tide line. Their nests and eggs are extremely well-camouflaged, which makes them vulnerable to being stepped on or run over. 
  • Make sure you remove only manmade litter. The natural components of wrack, such as seaweed, are very important to birds and other wildlife*.
  • Do not place litter above the tide line; this also can interfere or cause harm to nesting birds.
  • Do not use equipment such as rakes, shovels or tractors.
  • Do not bring dogs onto the beach. Dogs, even when leashed, are very threatening to birds and cause them to panic.
  • Obey speed limits and be aware. Some seabirds and shorebirds and their chicks may cross coastal roads.
  • You should report anyone who is harming or harassing shorebirds to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922.
* Please note: Even though the wrack line is important to wildlife, if it becomes oiled it then becomes a death trap for birds and other wildlife and makes removal of oil from the beach more difficult. Timing for removal of beach wrack in oil-spill response is critical. It should be left on the beach in areas of active nesting as long as possible but removed immediately prior to beaches becoming oiled. In areas distant from active nesting, cleanup of wrack and other natural debris can be performed to better facilitate future oil removal.

"Best Practices" for Seaturtles

Nesting by loggerhead, green, leatherback, and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles occurs on Gulf of Mexico beaches in the Florida Panhandle from Escambia through Franklin counties and on the southwest coast of the peninsula from Pinellas County to Collier County.

Sea turtles nest at night on the Gulf coast of Florida from May through August. Hatching of sea turtle nests also occurs at night from July through October.

The following guidelines should be followed for any beach cleanup on Florida's sea turtle nesting beaches during the nesting season (May 1 through Oct. 31):
  • Do not conduct activities on the beach after dark.
  • In many cases, sea turtle nests will have been clearly marked by volunteers with four or more stakes, flagging tape and yellow signs. Do not enter this posted area. If you are interested in volunteering on nesting beaches, you must first become a Marine Turtle Permit Holder with certification by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you are interested in attaining this permit, you should follow this link:
  • Only use approved beach access points.
  • To the degree possible, stay below the tide line.
Most of the "Best Practices" guidelines for shorebirds also apply seaturtles, including the hotline for reporting criminal harassment or trespass on turtle nesting grounds. Following these guidelines will ensure a healthy nesting place for wildlife dependent upon the Florida coastline.

Plover Photo Credit: Mike Baird