Dori Hughes, STPS Nest Survey Primary Permit Holder from the Start – by Donna Braunlich
Editor’s Note: The following article was written in 2020 by Donna Braunlich, long-time STPS member and former STPS Board Member. Please note, the number of years that Dori’s been a member of STPS and our Nest Survey Primary Permit Holder has been updated for publication in 2023.
During the fall of 1987, approximately one year after STPS was incorporated, Dori Hughes moved from Ohio to Indialantic, Florida. She had heard about sea turtles when she visited friends in Florida that summer. Dori discovered a small group of volunteers who were working toward helping the plight of these threatened and endangered creatures, so she began to attend their meetings. She was given a booklet published by Florida Power and Light to learn about turtles. That means Dori has been an active member of STPS for over 35 years, the longest of any current STPS member. Her story with STPS includes multiple first-time activities that demonstrate a willingness to learn about and do whatever is necessary to help sea turtles.
In the early spring of 1988, the group met in the gazebo at Ryckman Park in Melbourne Beach. Peter Bandré passed a wall calendar around the circle of volunteers and asked each one to write their name under the dates they were available to help with Turtle Walks during the upcoming nesting season. Dori said she chose dates where experienced, knowledgeable people were assigned, so she could learn from them. After attending and observing walks for several weeks, Dori received a call saying the volunteer scheduled to lead the walk was not able to be there that evening. With a room full of eager visitors, Dori led her first Turtle Walk.
Dori commented that strandings were interesting. With just a few volunteers available, everyone helped in any way they could. Team members took turns with the pager and answered calls 24 hours a day. Dori explained that team members buried dead turtles on the beach after documenting the incident except during official sea turtle nesting season.
One of the memorable strandings for Dori was during a chilly February afternoon. A call came into the STPS office from the Indialantic Police Department that there was a dead sea turtle on the beach. Since Dori lived close by, she responded to the call and discovered a dead adult leatherback sea turtle. After making some calls for help and shovels, Dori and a group of available STPS volunteers proceeded to dig a large hole for the unfortunate turtle. Daylight was fading, and the tide was coming in. As it turned out, this stranding was a family affair. Dori’s mother, who was here visiting, held a lantern to enable the volunteers to see in the dusky evening. Dori, her mother and several STPS volunteers were soon able to accomplish the task.
Dori stresses that education has always been the most important thing STPS does in support of the group’s mission to “help sea turtles survive.” So, when she was asked to help with presentations, she was happy to do it. One of her talks was at Sea World to speak about turtles to the American Association of Zookeepers. Dori was really nervous about talking to people who worked with all kinds of animals, many experts in the field, but found they were a great audience and asked good questions.
During the spring of 1996, an FWC staff member inquired if STPS had ever considered doing nest surveys. Several meetings and training sessions later, Dori and STPS established guidelines and protocols for conducting the surveys. They documented what was required, where they would survey and how many volunteers were interested in helping. They created a map of the two-mile area from the northern boundary of Patrick Air Force Base to a few lots north of South 10th Street in Cocoa Beach. The map enabled nest survey team members to identify the location of the nests and be able to find them later to monitor their progress. The STPS Nest Survey Team officially began surveying.
During that same year, Dori observed that the nest survey team was collecting large quantities of trash from the beach in their survey area in Cocoa Beach while conducting surveys. She contacted Brevard County’s Keep Brevard Beautiful (KBB) organization and inquired about adopting the stretch of beach that they were currently performing surveys on for the KBB Adopt-a-Beach program. She was told that the area was already adopted. Dori was told that Coconut Point Park was available, and the nest survey team began doing beach cleanups at that site. STPS officially adopted that site and continues to hold monthly cleanups at Coconut Point Park. Dori also noted that the nest survey volunteers have continued daily trash collection during their nest surveys in south Cocoa Beach.
Dori is the only STPS volunteer that has ever held the primary permit for nest surveys. She has been the primary permit holder for nest surveys for over 25 years. Dori recounted that over the years, she had volunteered in many capacities but considered her favorite activity to be nest surveys.
Given the number of years Dori has served as a volunteer and participated in the wide variety of activities, it should come as no surprise that her dedication has been recognized on a national level. In October 2019, Dori was recognized with a state Cox Conserves Heroes award, which includes a $10,000 donation to the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and competed as a national finalist.
Dori has been part of STPS since it was founded. Currently, she also serves on the board of directors — along with other volunteer roles.