LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Marine-turtle nesting season began in March on Florida beaches from Brevard through Broward counties, although two leatherbacks laying their eggs in late February got a head start. May 1 marks the official start in other coastal counties.
The FWC says this year, Florida’s nesting sea turtles face specific challenges due to the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy.
The FWC reminds beachgoers that it is illegal to disturb sea turtles, their nests or hatchlings. The loggerhead is listed as a federally threatened species, and the leatherback and green turtle are federally endangered species. State law restricts things like beach renourishment and repairs on structures such as seawalls during nesting season, which continues through October.
Coastal residents and visitors can help ensure successful nesting of threatened and endangered sea turtles by:
-Ensuring beach-repair work is completed before nesting turtles arrive;
-Removing all equipment, beach furniture and other potential obstructions from the beach at night, when nesting females and hatchlings need to move unimpeded across the sand;
-Managing artificial light at night (see below) by turning off lights when not in use, closing curtains and shades, and shielding lights needed for human safety so no light is visible from the beach.
Nesting and hatchling sea turtles may become confused by artificial nighttime lighting and head in the wrong direction when trying to find the water. If confused hatchlings end up heading landward instead of toward the sea, they often die from dehydration, get run over or become prey for raccoons, ghost crabs and fire ants.
Each year, about 2,500 FWC-permitted volunteers patrol more than 800 miles of sandy shoreline around the state on a regular basis, scanning the beach for leatherback, loggerhead and green turtle nests. The Marine Turtle Permit Holders mark and count nests and educate the public about protecting turtles, eggs and hatchings.
Eggs in most nests will have finished incubation and hatch by the official close of nesting season on Oct. 31, although green turtles may continue laying eggs into October, keeping volunteers busy.
Last year was a good one for sea turtle nesting on Florida beaches, especially for loggerheads, which had a record number of nests statewide. Based on a monitoring program the FWC began in 1989, loggerhead nesting had continued a positive overall trend after several years of decline. Leatherback and green turtle nesting also had improved.
To help conserve sea turtles, people can donate $5 and receive a sea turtle decal or just learn more about sea turtles at MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.