Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Webcam reminder

The Island Empress webcam is still working if you want to check the Casino Beach area just east of the fishing pier. Although the webcam is looking down from a high vantage point (17th floor), it is easy to see there is oil on the beach this afternoon. It will be interesting to check it out this evening to see if cleaning crews are working in that area.

You may go directly to the webcam by clicking HERE.


We've had rain and high surf for a couple of days, so I haven't been out with my camera. There are a few things I'd like to update you on, however.

First of all, even though a statement has not been officially released to turtle patrolers in this area, it has been widely reported that a decision has been made to dig up sea turtle nests along Panhandle and adjacent Gulf Coast areas around day 50 and relocate the eggs to the Atlantic coast. More specifically we have heard Cape Kennedy will be the spot they are taken. Being familiar with Merritt Island and the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, it sounds like a good location to me.

You may read more about this new relocation plan by clicking HERE.

How well this will work isn't known, but it reasonable to think it has to work better than allowing the tiny hatchlings to swim into heavily oiled Gulf water. I'm very relieved to hear about the new plan and hopeful it will help save our sea turtles. Once I know more, I will update you.

Next, I have begun helping out with the oil spill response as a Wildlife Observer. I may have to step up my supplements to survive the patrol schedule which goes from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. We don't have the luxury of Mules/UTVs at this point as we do during our GINS sea turtle patrols. Instead, Wildlife Observers will be given specific routes between clean-up crews at Point A and Point B and walk back and forth throughout the night checking for sea turtles/tracks (as well as oiled wildlife).

Lastly -- saving good news for last -- we have had two more sea turtle nests in the last couple of days. One nest was on Pensacola Beach and the other in the Santa Rosa area of Gulf Islands National Seashore (the section between Portofino and Navarre Beach). Navarre Beach has now had three sea turtle nests. The discovery of these recent nests is another reason to have sea turtle monitors out there constantly checking the areas around/between clean-up crews to make sure protocol is followed so that sea turtles are not frightened away, their tracks are spotted (not easy with all the tire tracks and footprints!), no one interferes with a nesting turtle, and that nests themselves are properly marked off so no equipment will run over them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A sad little crab

I discovered a sad little ghost crab on the beach this morning, splotched with oil. If you enlarge the photo you can see one eye stalk is completely oiled over and the other partially. Ghost crabs have a unique 360-degree field of vision, so the oil has definitely put it at a disadvantage in avoiding seagulls.

Though I admit ghost crabs are not my favorite creature since they will burrow into sea turtle nests and eat the eggs or munch on tiny hatchlings, I hate to see anything covered in oil and left unable to defend itself.

Ghost crabs also scare me when they tunnel into a sea turtle nest and I have to dig it out of the hole. Just as I get close, it invariably jumps out at me and I scream like a wild thing. I often wonder if that in turn frightens the little turtles.

Turtle Patrol 6-27-10

I wasn't sure what to expect at Ft. Pickens this morning, but this was the worst of it, located about half a mile into Ft. Pickens and up to Parking Lot 21.

As you can see, there were areas still heavily oiled. There were also scores of oil spill response teams both large and small setting up shortly after dawn.

Oil balls along Ft. Pickens.

Oil spill response signs were posted everywhere. I should add that if you wish to visit Ft. Pickens today, there is less oil around the Langdon Beach area.

About every mile along my route I would a line of holes perpendicular to the shoreline which appeared to have been dug by a post-hole digger. I assume they were checking for oil beneath the surface.

On the opposite end of the Pensacola Beach between Seashore Village and Portofino, there was less evidence of oil - just tiny tar pills along the tide line here and there. The water look beautiful and clear as usual. Evidently, just like the tide, the path of the oil is everchanging.

There was no turtle activity today. I only saw two Great Blue Heron and no black skimmers or osprey.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Back on the beach

I returned home about three hours ago from a cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula with my family. It seemed like a good time to get away from computers and e-mails, cellphones, news reports and just plain ol' bad news for a while.

We discovered the first day there was access to CNN onboard the ship. Not being able to go cold turkey from news reports, we caught portions of it each morning while waiting for room service to arrive with coffee. It was a huge shock to wake up mid-week and see video clips and photos of oil on our beautiful beach on CNN. Not just little oil balls and small tar patties like before, but sheets of the ugly stuff everywhere. It was just heartbreaking, especially video of a young dolphin being carried ashore and learning it later died. I wanted to be home even though there was nothing I could do.

The sea was rather choppy one day and we realized we were sailing not so far ahead of a tropical depression which seemed to blossom into a storm almost overnight. It was tracing our path back across the western Caribbean. The thought of what a tropical storm could do to our area if it turned our way and mixed with the oil was just too much to consider. We might be heading home to prepare for a hurricane.

Yesterday we pulled ahead of the storm and sailed into calmer water, but the evening turned solomn as we exited the main dining room. We crossed the promenade level back to our room and even though we were hours away from the entrance of the Mississippi River, the smell of oil was heavy - even inside the mid-level of the ship. We continued to our room and stood on the balcony for some time, despite the smell. It was surreal to us all.

Glancing over the balcony - above, below, and to each side - you could see the hands, arms and heads of scores of people who stood silently at the rails watching tendrils of oil sheen stretching miles and miles toward the horizon where a blazing red sun slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was about 6:00 a.m. this morning before I could use my Droid (a Smartphone) and I scrolled through dozens of e-mails and comments from my blog readers, friends and family who did not know I was away. Some were confused because they heard about the oil, yet the photos on my blog (which were taken during last Sunday's patrol and had automatically posted during my absence this week) didn't correspond at all with the news of the oil and I sincerely apologize.

I will be doing my patrol at Ft. Pickens in the morning, so photos afterwards will be a true depiction of the beach. I pray it isn't as bad as I fear.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My beautiful beach

There is nothing so beautiful as our beach to me.

May it always stay this pristine.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Great Blue Herons

In late spring or early summer, one of the things I enjoy observing is the courtship ritual of Great Blue Herons.

We have many Great Blue Heron and osprey nests at Ft. Pickens and definitely worth an afternoon's visit.

Alas, a split second too late in focusing properly on this 'en pointe' moment. Still, the leap is grace in motion.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I love the sandcastles I find along the way. Memories of happy days in the sun, families now far away, their memories of Pensacola Beach.

"Here and there, everywhere, scenes that we once knew.
And they all just recall memories of you."

~~ Memories of You

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

~~ Rachel Carson (1907 - 1964)

Monday, June 21, 2010


Tracks were everywhere during my Ft. Pickens patrol on Sunday.

Since I am hardly the experienced tracker, I couldn't tell you what these might have been.

All I know for sure is that the National Seashore is home to fox, coyote, feral cats, raccoon, opossum, and occasionally a stray dog.

We do not like to see them near our turtle nest, that's for sure.

My friend and fellow turtler, Melanie Waite, is researching the tracks to see what might be sniffing around the nests. If she finds out anything definite, I'll be sure to let you know.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday at Ft. Pickens - oil update

Like clockwork at 5:45 a.m. caravans of workers made their way through the park toward Ft. Pickens. Every ten minutes or so, another group would file past.

The beach was clear again today and the water was shades of turquoise, but for the first time I could see what appreared to be tendrils of an oil sheen winding its way toward the beach.

With no odor to distinguish it as oil, I wouldn't have paid attention except for the patch of light colored mousse which floated along toward the end.

And one solitary tar patty bobbed along at the shore line at the tip of the island.

Hundreds of feet of boom were anchored on shore and stretched out into Pensacola Pass.

And a wall of boats, barges and larger ships seemed determined to block the oil's progression, but, as we all know now, it probably floated right underneath them during the night.

Turtle Patrol 6-20-10

No turtle activity at Ft. Pickens today, but I captured a shot of this small shark which swam by as I was trying to photograph a pod of dolphin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Snack time

This black skimmer scooped up a bait fish along the water's edge and headed back toward its nest. I'd say there were chicks somewhere nearby waiting for a snack.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Turtle nest!

These photos of the loggerhead tracks and nest discovered this morning are courtesy of my friend and fellow turtler, Melanie Waite.

Since the nest was so close to the water, it had to be relocated farther back by sand dunes.

How cool!

Turtle News!

It was heartbreaking to see those photos of the dead loggerhead sea turtle which washed ashore on Tuesday. Now I finally have some good news to share with you!

We had a loggerhead nest at Ft. Pickens on Wednesday and this morning my friend, Melanie Waite, discovered another loggerhead nest on the UWF property (which is east of Portofino). In addition to that, we have had a few false crawls this week. That means we have some sea turtles coming ashore to nest, but they are either frightened away something about the area doesn't suit the mama turtle.

Perhaps later today Melanie will share some photos of the tracks/nest with us! I can assure you, she is one happy camper!!!!

In our patrol area of Santa Rosa Island - from Ft. Pickens to the west side Navarre Beach, we have now had four nests: one Kemp's ridley and three loggerhead.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Oil free

Our beaches still appear to be oil free for the most part. Small oil balls wash ashore here and there, as well as oiled objects, but not in large quantity like we are seeing in news reports and photos from Perdido Key, Orange Beach and now even Okaloosa Island. For whatever reason we've managed to dodge the worst of it, I am very grateful.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


It is with a heavy heart that I tell you one of our sea turtles washed ashore dead yesterday. I appreciate the photographer, Donna Patrice, sharing her photos with me. The copies are low resolution but I wanted my blog readers to know/see what is happening.

Hopefully this is not the same turtle that nested last week near Portofino. We have only had one loggerhead nest so far this year.

Female sea turtles come ashore several times during the season to nest, generally about two weeks apart.

She was 38.5 inches long and 26 inches wide.

Most importantly, Donna had the presence of mind to take close-up photos of the carapace which was stained with oil.

As I said, I have Donna's permission to share these photos, so I am providing a link to her Facebook album where you can see these and other photos in higher resolution. Click HERE.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Santa Rosa Island Authority update

We received another alert from the Santa Rosa Island Authority this morning, although the information had already been widely dissseminated through various sources.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Highway 98 (Gulf Breeze Parkway) will be completely closed to traffic from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, June 15, 2010. The President will be visiting the Pensacola Beach area. Due to safety concerns by Secret Service and presidential staff, Highway 98 will be entirely closed to traffic from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

No vehicles will be allowed to enter Highway 98 during this time. The closed area will begin at Gulf Breeze City limits at Bayshore Road and extend into Pensacola.

Please make necessary arrangements to travel through Gulf Breeze PRIOR to 8 a.m. Areas of downtown Pensacola will be closed prior to 8 a.m. and no vehicles will be allowed on Pensacola Beach after 8 a.m. as well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Protecting our turtles

My thanks to Pamela Young with the National Park Service for sharing this photo with me.

Pamela was on duty June 4 at the Ft. Pickens campground office when the call came in about a disoriented Kemp's ridley sea turtle in the middle of Ft. Pickens Road. Pamela rushed to the site to guard the turtle until the Vickie Withington, a bio-tech, could get there and help the turtle back into the Gulf of Mexico. As we now know, the Kemp's ridley came back a few hours later and nested in the park.

So far this year, we have only had two sea turtles nests - one at Ft. Pickens and one on the east end of Pensacola Beach. Kemp's ridleys are the smallest of all the marine turtles -- reaching 75 - 100 lbs - and are on the endangered species list. It is also the only sea turtle that routinely nests (and hatches) during daylight hours. You may read more about Kemp's ridley sea turtles by clicking HERE. And you may compare them to a photo of the much larger Loggerhead turtle which nests on Pensacola Beach by clicking HERE.

Although we had a few Kemp's ridley nests last year, none of the eggs hatched. As some of you recall, we had better luck with them in 2008 and some of my blog readers were even able to attend a controlled release of the hatchlings. We don't know why the eggs were not viable in last year's nests, but now more than ever we are compelled to watch over our turtles and protect them as best we can.

There was no turtle activity today, but I was happy to see our beach was still clean. There was a lot of bird activity and I saw several dolphin swimming and feeding. I also saw a large ray feeding near the shoreline. If it hadn't been for all the boats on the horizon skimming oil, it would have seemed like a normal patrol day. I liked that feeling.

Still clear

The water and beach still looked clean today. There was even more sea grass washed up, however, which the smaller shore birds enjoyed picking over.

Changing vernacular

From one skimmer

to another.

Sad reminder

Another oil-soaked hard hat washed up on the beach this morning, reminding me of those families who lost husbands, fathers, and sons in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A big appetite

I stopped briefly this morning to figure out what on earth this Great Blue Heron had caught and was trying to eat. It was HUGE...and ugly!

I hope it managed to get the fish turned around before swallowing it. I was recently informed that herons/birds must eat fish head first to prevent it from getting lodged in their throats or pricked by spines. Heck, this fish looks like it has some big teeth too!

Oil-free beacon

It was interesting to find a Coast Guard beacon which had washed ashore this morning. No visible oil was on it.

There was quite a bit of sea grass washed up along the beach, but no oil balls appeared to be mixed in. I'm hoping it looks as good tomorrow.

Saturday morning - Ft. Pickens

The beach at Ft. Pickens still looked good this morning. What you are seeing in the photos are clumps of sea grass.

The water also looked clear and I detected no harsh odor

There were heavily oiled objects which had washed ashore, however.

I once thought plastic and Styrofoam was the worst of the trash I'd see on the beach. Now we have to deal with oiled plastic and Styrofoam. {{{sigh}}}

I'd like to thank the architect of this castle for the smile they brought to my face. Love the sea grass 'palm trees'.

One more thing made me smile this morning. A pod of dolphin were playing and feeding near Langdon Beach. I yelled out, "Swim east!!!"

Friday, June 11, 2010

Santa Rosa Island Authority Update

An E-Alert was just received from the SRIA:

Pensacola Pass will Close at 7 p.m

Escambia County officials have confirmed through Unified Command that Captain Steve Poulin, USCG Captain of the Port for Sector Mobile, authorized the closure of Pensacola Pass at 7 p.m. today, June 11. Boom will be deployed across the opening of the pass and the pass will be navigationally restricted during incoming (flood) tide as waters enter Pensacola Bay. The pass will be manned to allow access to necessary vessel traffic.

The pass will reopen during outgoing (ebb) tide as water flows out to the Gulf of Mexico. Skimmers will continue working the night.

The Intracoastal waterways will remain open.


The high tide time for Pensacola Bay entrance tomorrow is 9:37 a.m.

The low tide time for Pensacola Bay entrance tomorrow evening is 9:52 p.m.

You may check out tide times for various locations along the Florida Coast by clicking HERE. On patrol mornings, the first thing I do after the alarm goes off is to check the radar and the tide table.

"My Beach"

Below is a beautiful and moving video created by long-time beach resident and special 'beach character', Freddy Esposito - musician (Wildwood), surfer, photographer, and go-to guy when your computer crashes. I appreciate Freddy giving me permission to share it with you.

You may check out more of Freddy's videos by clicking HERE.

More unsettling reports

After my stop by Casino Beach this morning, during which time the beach looked clean except for clumps of seagrass here and there, I saw the following story and accompanying photo in the Pensacola News Journal. Click HERE to read the article.

The area mentioned in the newspaper article is near the large commemorative cross on Ft. Pickens Road, approximately a mile west of where I was.

Another article stated that a large plume of weathered oil has been spotted nine miles south of Pensacola Pass. The plume is two miles wide and stretches forty miles to the south.

As one of my blog readers said about news reports, "I need to stop reading for a while."

Update from the Santa Rosa Island Authority

The following report was sent out to residents this morning:

DEP has reported plume of oil 12 miles off the Perdido Pass. Vessels are enroute to further assess the situation. One option may be to try to burn some of the plume. If they decide to burn off some of the oil, you may see a glow in the gulf along the horizon.

Tar balls and sheen have been reported coming through Pensacola Pass and into Pensacola Bay. The pass remains open at this time, however skimming operations are being conducted.

The majority of oil reported in Pensacola Pass has been collected by skimmers. Responders continue to "chase" small patches of oil.

Boom has been set in Pensacola Pass.

Escambia County issued orders for crews to deploy secondary boom to be set in inland areas today, June 10. This boom will protect environmentally sensitive areas and will limit waterway access. Boats will not be able to pass.

Boaters in areas where skimming is being conducted, or where boom has been set, have been requested to maintain no-wake speeds.

Based on oil activity yesterday, the USCG “Captain of the Port” for Sector Mobile authorized the official closure of Perdido Pass at 5:30 p.m. It is manned 24 hours a day if vessels need to pass.

The pass will be open for vessel traffic during low tide. (See NOAA tide predictions).

Boat traffic needing access in or out of boom locations, should call 850-736-2261.

A flashing light has been attached to all boom to increase visibility to boaters.

A VHS mariner order will be broadcast on the closing of these passes.

NOAA trajectories show direct on-shore impacts of scattered tarballs and light sheen through the weekend, for coastal regions near and west of Pensacola

Approximately 200 members of clean-up crews were deployed on Escambia beaches June 10.

Relatively weak winds (below 10 knots) are expected today and should continue out of the south or southeast through the weekend. This wind flow may continue to push portions of the oil plume towards the Florida Panhandle in the next 72 hours; however, near-shore ocean currents are forecast to become more westward in the next few days which will help limit the eastward movement of the oil plume and windows of sheen. Weather conditions will be favorable for recovery operations through the weekend with less than a 20% chance of rain and seas at around two feet.

The beaches at Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key remain open.

The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier and the Pensacola Bay Fishing Bridge are both open for sightseers and fishing.

Pensacola Beach - Friday

On my way back from a trip to Gulf Breeze this morning, I stopped by Casino Beach to see how things looked. I apologize for the quality of the photos, but our temps have slowly climbed into the 90's and my camera lens fogs over as soon as I open the lens cap.

Workers mosey along the beach looking for tar balls to pick up, though they don't seem to be finding much in this area. It was a bit amusing to see a couple of them intent on finding something -- anything -- in front of two ladies who were soaking up the rays.

The only thing I saw on this portion of the beach was clumps of sea grass.

Unfortunately we learned last night that oil has now entered Pensacola Pass. I'm afraid photos taken tomorrow morning during my sea turtle patrol at Ft. Pickens may be very different.