Wildlife refuge specialist Christine Trammell has a favorite time of day at Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge: sunrise.

“It’s just the calmness and the stillness of everything. You can hear the ocean, but not a lot of people are up or out there,” she says. “The wind hasn’t picked up yet, usually. It’s very calming.”

Trammell has a favorite habitat at the 251.9-acre refuge on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast: maritime hammock.

“A hammock has a dense canopy, so it’s shaded, probably one of the few habitats on the refuge that provides that nice shade,” she says. “I like it because it’s one of the quieter areas on the refuge.”

She has a favorite species at Archie Carr Refuge, too: the leatherback sea turtle – “just because of its sheer enormity. It’s like you come across a VW Bug on the beach.”

Sea turtles are what make the refuge special, ecologically and for visitors.

“The Archie Carr 20-mile stretch of beach is the most important nesting beach for loggerhead sea turtles in the world,” says Trammell. “We easily can have a nest every couple feet between all the different species that nest there.”

The turtles thrive because the refuge is on an island with turtle-conscious ordinances, few businesses and land conserved by the state of Florida and two counties.

Last year, the refuge hosted 15,103 loggerhead sea turtle nests, 1,812 green sea turtle nests, a record 79 leatherback sea turtle nests and at least one Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nest.

Archie Carr Refuge – established in 1991 and named after the late Archie Carr Jr., in honor of his contribution to sea turtle conservation – attracts 120,000 visitors annually from around the world. Most come through the Barrier Island Sanctuary Management and Education Center, which is owned by Brevard County. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, the Friends of the Carr Refuge and volunteers lead educational programs and help spread the refuge’s conservation message out of that county facility.

Programs for visitors include morning Turtle Talks and nightime Turtle Walks.

The morning talks are generally led by refuge volunteers and include inspecting nests for overnight activity. “There is evidence of nesting turtles, especially green sea turtles. It looks like a minibulldozer was on the beach,” says Trammell.

The nighttime walks during the height of the turtle nesting season, in June and July, are generally led by Friends and include watching sea turtles lay eggs. Each nest has roughly 100 eggs, but only one hatchling in 1,000 survives to adulthood.

Archie Carr maritime hammock habitat 1 (Christine Trammel-USFWS)
Archie Carr Refuge is known as one of the most important sea turtle-nesting habitats in the world, but wildlife refuge specialist Christine Trammell appreciates its maritime hammock habitat, too. “I like it because it’s one of the quieter areas on the refuge,” she says. (Christine Trammell/USFWS)
“Interacting with a nesting sea turtle, standing three feet away while she is laying her eggs, is something people remember for a long time,” says Vince Lamb, a Friend and volunteer since 2008. “The interactions we offer at Archie Carr Refuge are very special.”

All of the refuge is on the barrier island, but all of the refuge is not sand and dunes. There is a lagoon side that “consists of mangrove swamps that line the Indian River Lagoon, which is the most biologically diverse estuary in all of North America,” Trammell says.

Toward the lagoon side, the shady maritime hammock habitat Trammell so appreciates is important for woodrats and land crabs; mangrove swamps are important for nesting birds, for fish species whose young benefit from the organic material birds create in the water, and for crustaceans; and scrub habitat benefits the Florida gopher tortoise.

While turtles rightly are the prized wildlife resource and main visitor attraction, Trammell says, “visitors should know that Archie Carr Refuge is not just beach; there are those other habitats we were talking about, too.”