Sea turtle season is upon us, so let’s welcome a new generation of sea turtles to our beaches. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC), about 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place in Florida beaches between May 1st and October 31st. And it is not uncommon to find early arrivals on Marco’s beaches.
Research has found that female sea turtles return to the same place every year to lay their eggs by sensing the specific magnetic field of the beach where they were born. This became imprinted on a turtle’s brain at birth to help them find their way back.
Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta Caretta) is the principal species using Marco Island beaches as its nesting habitat. They are slow–growing and do not reach sexual maturity until they are 35 years old.
Around 35 years ago, Marco’s beach was dark and quiet—a perfect place for sea turtle nesting. After mating at sea, females come to shore several times during the nesting season, dig a hole in the sand and deposit 100-200 eggs each time. After a two-month incubation period, the hatchlings will dig out of their nest and head directly to the ocean.
The female sea turtles and hatchlings must now share their nesting habitat with a growing number of residents, visitors and navigate challenges presented by the glow of artificial lighting from condos, hotels and timeshares.
What’s a Hatchling Disorientation?
Sea turtles almost always prefer hatching at night. The hatchlings rely on the natural glow of light over the water to draw them down the beach. Unfortunately, bright lights from beach structures and even streetlights can confuse hatchlings and they crawl AWAY from the water. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings makes it to adulthood.
Morning inspection of a nest shows lots of tiny prints heading to the dunes, pool decks, and parking lots. A fresh hatchling has only sufficient energy reserves for a few hours and spending the energy crawling in the wrong direction usually results in “irreparable harm.” Dead hatchlings have been found in the dunes, pool decks and parking lots providing irrefutable evidence of hatchling disorientation.
Unfortunately, Collier County data for the 2019 Sea Turtle nesting season indicates that Marco’s beaches were EIGHT TIMES worse than the average across the County when it came to hatchling disorientation.
What’s a False Crawl?
A female will crawl up the beach and fail to find a suitable site to lay its eggs and will return to the water. This is considered a False Crawl. In the morning, monitors will find two sets of flipper marks in the sand, one coming up the beach and the same flipper marks going back to the water. If no sign of digging or laying, this will be considered a “false crawl.”
In February, Marco Island sponsored a well-attended Sea Turtle Lighting Workshop presented by the Sea Turtle Conservancy. The STC can provide free consultation services on Sea Turtle Friendly Lighting for buildings on our beach. They also have access to grant funding resources. Several Marco condos have already signed up for the necessary consultation. For additional information, please visit www.conserveturtles.org/educational-initiatives-outreach-materials/.
Marco’s Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance is almost 20 years old. Coastal communities in Florida have started to adopt lighting ordinances implementing the improved lighting technology to protect the sea turtles during nesting season.
Save our Sea Turtles by following the FWC Guidelines:
- Keep it low (mounting height and low wattage).
- Keep it shielded (no light should be visible from the beach).
- Keep it long (wavelength), red or amber.