Turtle nesting season is an exciting time of year for South Floridians, for many its tradition to scour the beach at night hoping to come across a loggerhead laying her eggs. It is a fascinating sight watching these giant silent sea creatures come ashore, dig out a pit, lay their eggs, and carefully use their front flippers to cover up their hatchlings in the making, and then peaceful head back into the ocean. A female sea turtle can lay up to 200 eggs in one nesting. Turtles have been around for hundreds of millions of years. Even outliving the dinosaurs. So, it’s jolting to hear that nearly all species of sea turtles are endangered.
Key threats to sea turtles and their habitats:
Doing our part to help protect turtle population and aid in conservation efforts is critical to their survival. Here are some ways you can be proactive.
Turn off, turn down your lights. Hatchlings use inherit and environmental cues to find their way to the sea. Artificial light disorients hatchlings causing them to go inland instead of the ocean. If you live close to the beach, lower your lights. Close curtains that face the ocean when you have the lights on at night. I know it can be exciting coming across a turtle while walking the beach at night, however, avoid using lights from your phone, or flashlights. This can deter the turtles from coming to nest or cause them to abandon nesting attempts, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Consider switching your bulbs to these low wattage and long wavelength bulbs approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, http://myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/lighting/certified/bulbs/
Keep beaches clean and litter free. We all know it’s important to keep our beaches clean and that one shouldn’t litter. But did you know that over 100 million marine animals, including turtles, are killed each year because of pollution, specifically plastic debris. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, 80% of that debris comes from land. Turtles often mistake plastic trash bags for food, which then gets stuck in their intestines. If you see trash on the beach pick it up and properly dispose of it or recycle it. Reducing your use of plastic bags not only helps the environment but also helps protect our beloved sea turtles. Participate in a local coastal cleanup program such as the ones offered by https://www.gumbolimbo.orgis a great way to give back and be proactive about animal and coastline conservation. Check the site for upcoming beach cleanup events.
Be aware of nesting areas in your frequented beach. Female turtles nest at night, and could be scared off by people on the beach, resulting in them going back to the ocean without nesting or what is referred as a “false crawl”. If you come across a nesting turtle on the beach at night it is best to avoid them, keep your distance, and remain as quite as possible. She may abandon nesting if she feels she is in danger. So, let’s give our sea turtles their much need privacy. Nesting season in South Florida begins in March and ends in September.
Remove furniture, toys, any obstacles from the beach at night time. Turtles can get tangled or trapped in furniture. If you dug up a big hole in the sand cover it with sand. Likewise, if you come across a hole that someone else dug. This prevents hatchling turtles from getting trapped in them as they try to make their way to the ocean.
When boating keep an eye out for turtles. Before starting the motor check around the boat. If you spot sea turtles place your engine in neutral. “Stay in channels and avoid running in seagrass beds to protect this important habitat from prop scarring and damage… and avoid anchoring in seagrass beds and coral reef, which serve as major foraging and resting habitats for sea turtles”.
Adopting a sea turtle is another great way to support programs that advocate for the protection of our favorite hardshell friends. Look for adopting turtle programs in the local area, such as https://www.gumbolimbo.org/AdoptionLanding.
If you come across a sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtle please contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922.