Divine Intervention? Kemp’s ridley nests on Volusia County beach

Summer 1996 Issue Articles:

* Divine Intervention?
* New Riddles About Kemp’s Ridleys

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Divine Intervention?
Kemp’s ridley nests on Volusia County beach

by David Godfrey

For over a year now, two turtle activists have been pursuing a federal lawsuit against Volusia County, Florida, on the grounds that it is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing automobiles to drive on the beach and kill sea turtles. In response to the lawsuit, the county is attempting to obtain an “incidental take permit” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which would permit the continuation of well-regulated driving on some sections of beach in exchange for implementation of a Habitat Conservation Plan for sea turtles. CCC has carefully reviewed the proposed plan and submitted written comments to the USFWS. If approved, the plan would include the removal of cars from significant sections of beach.

A stretch of beach near the Town of Ponce Inlet is one such section proposed to be closed to cars. Announcement of the pending closure brought severe opposition from local officials and residents of Ponce Inlet. Officials even threatened a counter lawsuit their position being that the Ponce Inlet beach is no more attractive to turtles than other beaches in the county that would remain open to cars.

In the midst of this debate, on May 14, 1996 a female Kemp’s ridley chose Ponce Inlet as the location to deposit the first documented ridley nest on the east coast of Florida. As Kemp’s ridleys are noted for doing, this mother-to-be crawled ashore in broad daylight, amidst the cars and tourists, to deposit her 108 eggs. Turtle volunteers and the Volusia County Sea Turtle Coordinator were called to the scene to document the nesting and photograph the turtle.

The irony reached mystical proportions when, seventeen days later, the same Kemp’s ridley crawled out of the sea and nested right behind the beachfront home of Shirley Reynolds, one of the activists waging the lawsuit against Volusia County. Again, turtle volunteers were on the scene to document the nesting.

The timing and location of these nestings were so mysterious that many people have jokingly suggested the turtle was first pointing out to Ponce Inlet officials that their beach is indeed an important nesting site and then thanking Reynolds for her commitment to ending beach driving. On a final note, the USFWS is still reviewing Volusia County’s proposed Habitat Conservation Plan, and a final decision is expected shortly.