The sea turtles are coming!
As the weather warms up and the snowbirds leave, our beaches get some very special visitors: Sea turtles. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, about 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida beaches between May 1st and October 31st. It is not uncommon to find early arrivals.
From spring to early fall, female sea turtles crawl out of the water at night to build nests and lay eggs on Florida’s beaches. Babies hatch some 60 days later and crawl back into the sea. Hatchlings are born with an instinct to travel away from the dark silhouettes of the dune vegetation and toward the brightest horizon, which is the light from the sky reflecting off the ocean.
Female loggerhead sea turtles nest every two to three years, digging a hole and depositing about 80-120 eggs. Once finished, she will cover her eggs with sand before returning to the sea.
After a two-month incubation period, the hatchlings all dig out of their nest, usually at night, and head directly for the sea. This first trek “imprints” into the hatchlings their home beach. Once grown, the sea turtles will return to build their nests and lay their eggs on the same beach.
A very long time ago, Florida’s beaches were dark and quiet – perfect for sea turtle nesting. Marco’s beach is now lined with hotels, condominiums and time shares, and sea turtles must share the beach with residents, visitors and businesses.
Artificial Beach Lights Hurt Sea Turtles
Bright artificial lights on the beach can cause a major disruption in the natural nesting behavior of sea turtles. Poorly managed beachfront lighting can deter female sea turtles from nesting, and cause hatchlings to travel inland toward the artificial lights, where they often die from dehydration, exhaustion, or are preyed upon by fire ants, crabs and other predators. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, only one out of 1,000 hatchlings will make it to maturity.
The vast majority of coastal local governments in Florida have enacted local lighting ordinances focused on the protection of sea turtles during nesting season. However, most of these local ordinances are out of date. They do not reflect the current advancement of sea turtle friendly lighting technology.
Good News! By following the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) sea turtle friendly lighting guidelines, we can save our little hatchlings:
- Keep it low (mounting height and wattage).
- Keep it shielded. No lights should be visible from the beach or open water.
- Keep it long (wavelength), red or amber.
FWC approved lighting guidelines may be found at www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/sea-turtles/turtles-lights.
How can you help Florida’s sea turtles?
- Join a beach clean-up – trash is harmful to sea turtles and wildlife.
- Do not leave fishing lines behind. These entangle wildlife, including sea turtles.
- Do not use flashlights, flash photography, video cameras or cell phones when you are on the beach after 9 PM.
- Turn off beachfront lights after 9 PM if they illuminate the beach.
- When in doubt, turn it off.
- Fill in holes – they are death traps to hatchlings.
If you come across a sea turtle that is stranded or dead, a hatchling that is wandering in a direction other than the water, or if you see someone disturbing a nest or turtle, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Resource Alert number at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC from your cell phone.
Let’s all do our part to ensure a successful 2018 sea turtle nesting season.