The beautiful shores, islands and parks of Pinellas County beckon both residents and visitors for a fun-filled Memorial Day weekend, but this can be a dangerous period for the wildlife that make this habitat their home. Residents and visitors are urged to follow posted rules, regulations and boating speed zones to keep wildlife safe.
The Memorial Day weekend is an especially fragile time, since many wildlife species are nesting and taking care of their newborn. Bird and turtle nesting areas are usually marked with PVC pipes and twine, according to Dr. Steven Harper of the Pinellas County's Parks and Conservation Resources department.
"Wildlife is an important part of our area and it is essential that we all do what we can to protect it," said Harper. "Following simple guidelines will allow our wildlife the space and safety that they need."
Visitors to inland lakes, ponds and waterways need to use extra care at this time of year. This is alligator breeding season. The banks of freshwater may have mother alligators protecting their young, so visitors should be especially careful when approaching or trekking in these areas.
When traveling to one of the county's parks with pets, all posted rules for dogs should be followed. There is one county-operated dog beach and it is located at Fort De Soto Park.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers these steps to enjoy the beaches and parks while protecting wildlife:
- Keep your distance. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest.
- Respect posted areas. Avoid posted nesting and resting areas; use designated walkways. Observe boating speed and no-entry zones and keep a safe distance from manatees.
- Never intentionally force birds to fly. When birds are chased or disturbed, they use the energy they need to reserve for nesting and migration.
- Keep pets away from nesting areas. Even well-behaved pets can be perceived as a threat to birds and will disturb them. If you take your pets to the beach, keep them leashed and away from nesting areas.
- Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows to the beaches. Litter on the beaches can entangle birds, sea turtles and other wildlife.
- If you see people disturbing wildlife, please call and report their activities to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922.
- To report nuisance alligators, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (866) 392-4286.
For more information on Pinellas County's Environmental Lands Division services and programs, visit www.pinellascounty.org/environment or call (727) 582-2100.