Connie Schindewolf still recalls her introduction to the Longboat Key Turtle Watch. While summering on the key in 1983, she saw a man in the early hours walking along the beach with a backpack and carrying a shovel. She started walking with him, learning about how the nests of turtles were scouted and excavated. It wasn’t long before she joined the efforts to boost the population of the fascinating species.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

More than three decades later, Schindewolfe remains the longest-serving volunteer for the organization, which still walks the beach in early hours trying to find and protect turtle nests, though the process today looks very different. Nobody’s carrying a shovel to disrupt the habitat so actively. “Back then we would put eggs in styrofoam coolers and put those on one of the turtle people’s lanais,” she recalls. “The eggs hatched on the lanais, and then people would let them walk on the sand and let them go.” Researchers now know the gender of turtles gets determined in part by the temperature of the sand around them, so most likely those Styrofoam containers were producing whole bales of same-sex hatchlings; watchers now make sure to leave eggs in the ground.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

But it’s still the responsibility of some 50 volunteers with the Turtle Watch to protect the nests along the shore on the Manatee section on Longboat Key; Mote Marine volunteers watch nests on the Sarasota side. “We make a difference for the sea turtles,” says Tim Thurman, president of the Turtle Watch. “We are helping the species to succeed.” They also help to educate the community about the animals. In early August, Cindy Seamon observed a nest over three days as hatchlings prepared to go to sea, and invited the public to a public excavation of the nest, where she talked about the species near the nest before the hatchings moved into the waters near Zota Beach Resort.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

The most important change Schindewolf witnessed? The number of turtles. By the late 1980s, the Turtle Watch moved from putting eggs in coolers to protecting the nests in a hatchery. Now, there are so many places where turtles bury eggs up and down the key that no such containment unit would be sufficient today. “The work man has done to help is evident from the increase in the number of nests,” she says. “It makes me glad I’ve always been involved.”