Crucial nesting season for sea turtles begins after hard winter
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Media contact: Patricia Behnke, 850-251-2130
Sea turtle nesting season has begun on some of
Florida's beaches and will begin in earnest all over the state in
the coming weeks. On some southeastern Florida beaches, endangered
leatherback sea turtles are already laying eggs. This is good news
after a winter that saw thousands of cold-stressed sea turtles
successfully rescued and returned to the sea by the Florida Fish
and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), with the assistance of
many partner agencies and volunteers.
The start of nesting season means beach residents
and visitors need to follow a few precautions to ensure a
People should manage lights along the beach to
prevent disorienting the female who comes ashore at night,
according to biologists with the FWC. To do this, shield lights
needed for human safety so they are not visible from the beach, or
turn them off when not in use. The instincts of the ancient
sea creature tell her to proceed toward the brighter horizon over
the ocean. Bright lights on the landward side of the beach can
confuse the nesting sea turtle and the hatchlings that emerge from
the nest. Lights on the beach can lead them away from the
"Just one light can kill thousands of turtles over
several years," said Dr. Robbin Trindell, a biologist with the FWC.
"Many lights burn all night, without contributing to human safety.
We ask that folks be conscious of those unnecessary lights."
Five species of sea turtles nest on Florida
beaches, with the loggerhead showing up in the largest numbers.
Green and leatherback sea turtles also nest in the Sunshine State.
While southern beaches typically host two or three hawksbill nests
each year, nests of the highly endangered Kemp's ridley have
increased in recent years, with nests documented in the Panhandle
and on southwest and southeast coast beaches.
The FWC lists the loggerhead as a threatened
species; the other four are endangered.
Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
announced it would recommend listing the loggerhead species that
nests in Florida as endangered.
Nearly 90 percent of the loggerhead population that
nests in the southeastern United States nests on Florida's beaches.
This population is one of only two large loggerhead nesting
Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles well-suited
for sea life, with a hydrodynamically shaped shell and large,
powerful front flippers. These physical characteristics enable them
to dive deep into the ocean and to swim long distances.
Female loggerhead turtles begin coming onshore in
the spring, with peak months for laying eggs in June and July. The
nesting female digs a hole with her rear flippers and then lays
approximately 115 eggs. After covering the nest with sand, the
massive creature, weighing from 150 to 300 pounds, makes her way
back to the ocean. A female might come ashore two to five times
during the nesting season. Amazingly, the females come back to the
same stretch of shoreline where they hatched decades earlier. The
males, once they make the long crawl after hatching out of the egg,
never return to land.
Late in the summer, after an incubation of 55-70
days, the hatchlings begin breaking out of their shells. Up to 100
hatchlings wait below the sand surface until darkness, when they
emerge together and crawl out of the nest. Instinct tells the 1- to
2-inch hatchlings to head toward the brightest horizon and away
from dark silhouettes. In days long gone in Florida, the brightest
horizon shone over the ocean, and the hatchlings would move away
from the shadows on the dunes and begin the crawl to the sea.
In modern-day Florida, hatchlings must crawl
through a battlefield of debris left by humans. Furniture discarded
by lazy beachgoers can obstruct a nesting female turtle or become a
trap for the hatchlings. Avoiding fireworks leftovers strewn along
the hatchling's path can cause exhaustion and delay in getting to
the water. If stranded on the beach when the sun rises, the
hatchlings' chance for survival diminishes and dehydration and sun
exposure become hazards.
"We can all help sea turtles survive," Trindell
said. "If we just take personal responsibility, we can go a long
way to ensure the sea turtle co-exists with us for many more years
For wildlife-friendly lighting options, go to
MyFWC.com/Wildlife and click on "Living with Wildlife."
The public can help efforts to conserve and fund
research for sea turtles by purchasing a specialty
license plate or decal. The extra fee for the sea turtle plate
helps fund the Sea Turtle Grants Program. Approximately 30 percent
goes to the grants program, which the nonprofit Caribbean
Conservation Corporation administers. Visit www.helpingseaturtles.org for more information.
The other 70 percent of tag revenue goes to the FWC's Marine Turtle
Protection Program to support research and management activities
related to sea turtles.