PORT ST. JOE, Fla.– George Core Park welcomed locals and visitors Sunday, June 30, for the fourth annual Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Festival.
The festival aims to combine education about all things sea turtles and the Gulf of Mexico with a day for families and the community to come together before the Fourth of July.
“We’re teaching people about general beach ecology, turtle biology and all the things that they need to know to understand how other creatures utilize the beaches,” said Jessica Swindall, Director of Florida Coastal Conservancy.
Local organizations and other vendors set up tents around the park to sell merchandise, hand out information, host arts and crafts stations and connect with the public based on their passion for sea turtles.
Obstacle courses could be found on the beach section of the festival that mimicked the path sea turtles take to enter the ocean after hatching. Festival-goers could see actual sea turtle nesting sites marked with caution tape, allowing them to view the real-life nests while not disturbing the eggs.
Stations like interactive water tubs of crabs and seashells, face painting and photo opportunities with mermaids allowed the event to reach families and younger members of the community with the message of protecting the sea turtles this hatching season.
“We’re using this opportunity, when we have so many people coming to the beach and so many turtles coming to the beach at the same time, to teach people about what they can do to help ensure that our mamas and babies have the best beach possible so that they can do the important work of nesting and hatching,” Swindall said.
Like the destruction present among houses and neighborhoods, Hurricane Michael caused a loss of habitats for sea turtles and other wildlife. However, Swindall noted the crowd’s enthusiasm and participation in the festival shows how the community feels about preserving the sea turtles for generations to come.
“I hope that everyone sees how much that this community appreciates its turtles,” Swindall said. “This is something that we hold very near and dear to us, so we hope that our love for turtles is spread among everyone who comes to this area too.”