Tips for Beachgoers to Help Protect Sea TurtlesJun 30, 2020 06:01AM ● By Julie Peterson
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida is the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the world, hosting more than 40 percent of nests laid globally. But Florida hosts a whopping 90 percent of the sea turtle nests laid in the United States each season. In addition to loggerheads, leatherback and green sea turtles nest on the Space and Treasure Coast’s beaches and there will be tens of thousands of nests over the summer.
Sea turtles can live 40 to 60 years or much more, but they don’t reach sexual maturity for 20 to 35 years. Once sexual maturity is reached, many will nest on local beaches between March and October, with timing dependent on the species. Nesting adults do a bit of camouflage and disguise on their nests and construct them deep in the ground
“The turtle uses her rear flippers to dig an egg chamber, so it is as deep as she can reach. Once the eggs are laid, she covers the nest, and returns to the ocean. The eggs will not be further tended by her, so she has done her best to protect the hatchlings in how she dug the nest,” says Susan Skinner, Sea Turtle Preservation Society (STPS) Board Chair and Director of Communication.
A nest may contain 100 eggs and take about 60 days to hatch. “Estimates vary, but it is said that only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings, or even 1 in 10,000 hatchlings, will survive to adulthood,” says Skinner. For this reason, it’s extremely important that humans don’t cause harm by disturbing or touching the nests, the adult nesting turtles or the hatchlings on the beach.
Loggerheads account for the largest percentage of nests on our beaches when compared to the leatherback and green sea turtles. “We are seeing an increase in leatherbacks this year and are hopeful it is the beginning of an upward trend,” says Niki Desjardin, Director of Operations for Ecological Associates which monitors and protects nests on the Treasure Coast including Fort Pierce, the Hobe Sound Natural Wildlife Refuge, St. Lucie Inlet State Park and the southern half of Hutchinson Island. “Last season we recorded 2,225 green sea turtles and typically we see 1000 to 1500 leatherbacks across the Treasure Coast. In comparison, 23,000 loggerheads were recorded last year.”
“Residents and visitors can help to make our area as turtle friendly as possible by remembering to keep beaches clean, flat and dark from May 1 through October 31,” says Skinner. Desjardin adds, “Visitors are often not aware they need to remove their furniture from the beach and turn off their balcony lights.” Residents can help by sharing the importance of these tips with visiting friends and family. “It is also important to note that we don’t mark every nest, so please be mindful not to stab umbrellas and shovels into the ground where there may be a nest,” says Desjardin.
Clean: Remove beach chairs, litter and other unnatural material from beaches.
Flat: Seemingly harmless daytime play can result in harm to adult turtles and hatchlings. Sandcastles and holes dug in the sand may block or trap sea turtles. Be sure to knock down and fill in before leaving the beach.
Dark: Brevard County ordinances prohibit visible lights of any type at night, including cellphones, from May through October. Treasure Coast counties have this ordinance in place from March through October.
Sea Turtle Preservation Society, Turtle House Gift Shop and Education Center (and offices), 111 South Miramar Ave, Indialantic. 321-676-1701. Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Turtle Nest kiosk at the Port (near Terminal One and Grills Restaurant)
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
For sea turtle emergencies in Brevard County, please call the STPS hotline at 321-206-0646, which is monitored 24 hours. For stranded sea turtle emergencies on the Treasure Coast, call Ecological Associates at 772-334-3729. For Space or Treasure Coast call 888-404-3922 for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for sea turtle emergencies and Florida Wildlife Commission Enforcement to report anyone harassing a sea turtle or disturbing a nest.