The Pinellas County Beach Nourishment projects are permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The FDEP completes a rigorous analysis of the environmental effects of this project. Adverse impacts to the surrounding islands, seagrasses, sea turtles, nearshore hardgrounds, or other environmental habitats, are a concern during beach nourishment projects. Pinellas County is required to prevent and/or mitigate for these potential adverse impacts. Turbidity created by the operation is monitored daily during construction. If water quality degrades, the operation is shut down. If construction occurs during nesting season, sea turtle and shorebird nesting areas are also monitored daily. The contractor must wait until getting the “All Clear!” from the monitors before beginning work each morning. Finally, nearshore mitigation reefs have been constructed during past projects to mitigate for adverse impacts to the nearshore hardbottoms. These activities are described below.
Marine turtle nesting and hatching occurs each year from May 1st through October 31st. Female turtles come ashore in the dark, dig a hole using their flippers, and lay 100 to 150 eggs at a time. During the course of a season, a single female lays three to eight nests. After a 45 to 70 day gestation period, hatchlings emerge from the nest at night and follow the moonlight reflecting off the Gulf.
Sea turtles can become disoriented from lights and illuminated objects visible from the beach. Most importantly, bright lights disorient hatchlings by attracting them inland where they often die of dehydration, predation, or are run over by motor vehicles. It is very important that occupants and managers of beachfront properties minimize the use lights that shine directly on the beach. Information about turtle friendly beach lighting from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can be found on the Sea Turtle Lighting Guidelines.
Daily early morning surveys for nests are performed during nesting season between May and November each year. Pinellas County contracts with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to monitor sea turtle nesting along all the nourished beaches. When nourishment projects are constructed, the aquarium staff relocates turtle nests within construction zones to areas outside of the construction zones, thus protecting the eggs from damage.
Since the late 1980s it is believed that nourishment projects have had a positive impact on sea turtle nesting in Pinellas County. Prior to the nourishment projects, portions of Sand Key had no dry beach and thus no nesting habitat for marine sea turtles. Since 2000, the annual number of total nests observed along the
Pinellas County beaches of Sand Key, Treasure Island, and Long Key (St. Pete Beach) has varied from 38 in 2007 to 195 in 2003 (see table below). Without the habitat provided by periodic nourishment projects, the number of nests laid each year would be much lower.
Nearshore mitigation reefs. When a beach nourishment project equilibrates, some sand is carried offshore. This sand has the potential to cover productive nearshore hardbottoms. Hardbottoms are areas of exposed limestone that provide substrate upon which corals and sponges grow. They also serve as nurseries for juvenile fish. To mitigate potential impacts from beach restoration projects, Pinellas County constructed a total of 29 inshore reefs from 100 to 900 yards offshore from Indian Shores to Sand Key in approximately 15 feet of water with a height of 3 to 5 feet. The project was completed in April 2006. The reefs attract small fish within weeks, soft corals within one year, and gain about one inch of hard coral growth per year thereafter. Divers and small boats have easy access to the inshore reefs which hold a variety of sport fish. For more information including GPS coordinates, visit Pinellas County’s Artificial Reef Program.