Palm Beach City approves new protections for turtles

After two hours of heated discussions last week, the Palm Beach City Council agreed to additional protections for sea turtle nests, though it did not authorize the tougher measures some conservationists have called for. .

After hearing from city staff and residents, as well as representatives from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection at their Aug. 9 meeting, council members declined to ban the cleanup. mechanics from the city’s public and private beaches, but directed city staff to work on an expedited permit and contract that would pave the way for the removal of Sargassum from city beaches.

Sargassum is an algae that floats in large masses on the surface of the ocean. It can be harmful to nesting sea turtles, eggs and hatchlings.

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A copious amount of sargassum has washed up on city beaches in recent months, city officials said, and council members agreed removing it as quickly as possible was a priority.

Sea turtle nesting season runs from March 1 to October 31.

“We have a problem with sargassum riding on turtles and choking them,” Council Chair Maggie Zeidman said. “All kinds of bad things are happening. They’re trapped. We have to do something, but not just for that reason. It’s also hydrogen sulfide that you can smell. It’s very irritating for some people .”

A sea turtle nest is marked at Midtown Beach in Palm Beach.

Removing sargassum from city beaches would most likely be an “exorbitant” expense, City Manager Kirk Blouin told council members on Tuesday, but he said city staff would study the options and bring them to council for approval. .

Since the next board meeting is not scheduled until September 14, this process should be expedited.

“We’ll apply for a permit, and we’ll find out the logistics and obviously the cost,” Blouin said. “In one form or another, if it has to be done before the September meeting, I’m going to have to go back, as I suspect it’s going to cost more than we assume.”

Council members also addressed the issue of mechanical equipment on the city’s beaches.

The city uses tractors, single-driver all-terrain vehicles, and multi-driver utility vehicles to perform various approved functions such as monitoring sea turtle nests, patrolling police department beaches, and cleaning beaches.

During sea turtle nesting season, precautions are put in place to protect nesting sea turtles, eggs and hatchlings, said Director of Public Works Paul Brazil.

At the request of the board, these precautions will be expanded to include:

• Allow mechanical cleaning of the beach when conditions are most favorable and not specifically organized on the same day each week.

• Conduct a daily sea turtle nest survey, protection and monitoring program prior to any mechanical beach cleanup, in accordance with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Beach Cleanup Permit. These protective measures may include checking hatchlings on the beach or in seaweed.

• Only the police department will allow state-licensed and state-regulated mechanical equipment on the beach during sea turtle nesting season.

Additional protective measures should be included in an upcoming beach cleanup solicitation, Brazil said.

Despite these additional measures, many conservationists oppose the use of mechanical equipment during turtle nesting season, saying it disrupts nesting sea turtles, eggs and hatchlings. .

They advocate raking the beaches by hand, but city officials consider this option costly and time-consuming.

“Manual cleaning of algae is not a realistic alternative,” Brazil said. “It’s far too laborious and inefficient.”

Brazil added that mechanical cleaning is not detrimental to nesting sea turtles, and council members agreed it should continue on the city’s public and private beaches, but with additional protective measures. .

“Council doesn’t have the desire to tell people what they’re going to do on their private property and say they have to rake by hand,” Zeidman said.

Jodie Wagner is a reporter for the Palm Beach Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at [email protected] Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

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