One of the most ancient creatures on Earth, Florida sea turtles have been around for more than one hundred million years, meaning they were swimming around during the time of the dinosaurs.
Sea turtles begin coming ashore to next in May and continue the process through October. A female turtle only nests every two or three years, but is able to lay several nests throughout the season. After dragging herself up the beach she uses her back flippers to dig a hole and deposits up to 100 eggs. She covers the nest with sand then leaves, never to return, leaving the eggs on their own to determine their own fate.
The eggs incubate for two months. As the babies hatch out of their shells, their thrashing causes the walls of the nest to collapse and the sand level to lift the hatchlings to the surface. They emerge once the sand has cooled, which is why most of the babies start their journeys at night. They scramble to the water and latch onto the drifting seaweed beds offshore. Amazingly, the babies live among the beds for several years, eating and growing, before finally heading out to the Gulf.
Sadly only one out of as many as ten thousand babies will survive all the way through to adulthood. Their entire lives are spent in ocean waters. Only the females come ashore and that is only to nest. Sea turtles aren’t even capable of reproducing until they are in some cases, 50 years old. For these reasons and many more, many species of sea turtle remain endangered or at least protected on the Endangered Species list. Sea turtles are classified as a Protected Species under the Endangered Species Act. It is the responsibility of all residents and visitors alike to ensure that these delicate creatures are not exposed to any harm, even if inadvertent, while they nest and develop on our beaches.
Please follow the rules below to help keep our Florida sea turtles safe:
- Make certain to shield all interior lighting from showing up on the beaches and exinguish all exterior lighting at night so as not to disturb the turtles
- Use turtle safe flashlights on the beach at night, such as a red LED light
- Do not use flashes when taking photos of turtles or nests (including flashes on cell phone cameras)
- Do NOT disturb any areas marked as nesting areas on the beach
- Remove ALL beach equipment every evening
- Take every single thing you bring to the beach away with you. Leave no trash or any trace of your visit behind
- Do not, under ANY circumstance, touch turtles, nests, or hatchlings
- Don’t dig trenches for hatchlings or otherwise disturb the natural terrain of the beaches. If you must dig, fill in any holes you create during your visit before you leave. Leave the beach as you found it.
- Leave NO plastic on the beach. No plastic bags, containers, caps, rings; do not use any products with micro-beads
Plastics are particularly dangerous to the recently hatched baby turtles as they make their arduous journey from their nest, across the sand to the ocean. After the babies exhaust their internal food supply from their yolk-sack, they instinctively will try to find food in the sand. The babies cannot distinguish their natural foods from tiny bits of plastic. Consuming plastic is one of the leading causes of death for both adult and baby sea turtles.
Another extremely harmful human activity that can hurt the babies is artificial light. The babies heading down to the water instinctively move towards the brightest nearby place, which, for many millions of years, would be the moon light reflecting off of the ocean. Artificial light could cause them to go the wrong way, ending in what is likely to be their doom. If you are staying in a property close to the water, please draw all the shades at night and turn off all exterior lighting.
The Florida Coastal Conservancy is a great source of education on the areas sea turtles. The Conservancy sends out patrols of volunteers to monitor and track sea turtle activity along the Saint Joseph Peninsula.
Remember, you are not the only visitors to our wonderful beaches. With a little bit of respect and attention, you can help keep our turtles safe and ensure the preservation of this ancient species for future generations to enjoy.