The survival of sea turtle species that have been on earth 110 million years depends on a ritual that begins every spring, as females climb out of the ocean to lay their eggs.
Florida’s sea turtle nesting season started this month and continues through October. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking beachgoers to be careful and watch out for sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Leatherback turtle nests already have been documented this year on beaches in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties.
“Please respect Florida’s sea turtles by leaving them alone and staying at a distance when you spot them moving across the sand or laying eggs,” said Robbin Trindell, who is responsible for sea turtle management at the FWC. “Sea turtles are resilient species, having been on earth for millions of years, but the turtles and their eggs and hatchlings are especially vulnerable whenever they appear on our beaches.”
Once a female sea turtle digs a nest on the beach with her rear flippers, she deposits about 100 eggs the size of pingpong balls. Then she covers up the nest with sand. Females often appear to weep as they nest, but the purpose of those tears is to remove salt from the turtle’s body.
Last year was an exceptional nesting year for sea turtles in Florida, with a record count for green turtle nests, and the number of leatherback turtle nests almost matching the record.
Another important step that people can take to help sea turtle nesting is turning off or shielding outdoor lights that face the ocean. Sea turtle hatchlings may confuse artificial nighttime lighting on homes and businesses with the sparkle of seawater, and head in the wrong direction when leaving their nests. If confused turtle hatchlings end up heading inland instead of toward their watery habitat, they often die from dehydration, getting run over, or being preyed upon by raccoons, ghost crabs and fire ants.
Sea turtle eggs typically incubate for 45 to 60 days, and the hatchlings will emerge on Florida beaches through November.
Three sea turtle species, the loggerhead, green turtle and leatherback, nest regularly on Florida’s beaches. Two other species, the hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley, nest infrequently on the state’s shoreline. All five species are federally listed as either threatened or endangered.
You can report someone disturbing a sea turtle nest, or report a sea turtle that is being harassed, injured or dead by calling FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone. Or you can text Tip@MyFWC.com.