Let’s talk sea turtles. I love these gorgeous creatures and I consider myself super fortunate to see them in at least 60% of my shore dives during turtle season. We are so spoiled that in summer, I am disappointed on a dive when I DO NOT see one. I decided to highlight this topic early as the waters are warm and with the next full moon rising we will be in full swing of turtle nesting season. Some people say it runs March thru October in Florida while other experts say May-October. Leatherback turtles start in March, Logggerhead turtles generally start in April, and green turtles in May & June. Leatherbacks are unpredictable however and if waters are warm can start as early as February. Please note that 4 out of the 5 are endangered species. The other is threatened.
There are 5 species of sea turtles inhabit Florida’s waters during some of the year. For a quick rundown, refer to my post last summer on sea turtles found in Florida. Every year Florida gets over 50,000 sea turtles for nesting. This makes Florida one of the most important nesting areas for conservation and rejuvenation of sea turtles. We get loggerheads, green sea turtles, Kemp’s Ridley and hawk’s bill and leatherback. I have never seen a Ridley or Leatherback. Florida is the largest state for loggerhead aggregation, second largest in western hemisphere for green turtles and the only state where leatherback’s regularly nest.
Please do not be a DUMB ASS and harass the turtles. Sea turtles in Florida are protected through Florida Statutes, Chapter 370, and by the United States Endangered Species Act of 1973. Briefly, these laws state that: “No person may take, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or attempt to engage in any such conduct to marine turtles, turtle nests, and/or turtle eggs.” Any person who knowingly violates any provision of the act may be assessed civil penalties up to $25,000 or a criminal penalty up to $100,000 and up to one year imprisonment.
In Florida, sea turtles come a shore to nest generally in May but sometimes as early as Februaty & March and hatching continues until late October. A female can lay multiple nests during one season and only nests every two or three years. The excruciating process of nesting takes hours. A turtle must drag her massive weight out of the water to the dunes. Last year, we saw a dead one on the beach that just didn’t have the strength to make it back into the water. Very sad and broke my heart to see. Hopefully she raised some awareness to the tourists the next day taking pictures. The female lays here eggs many times on full moon nights. She uses her back flippers to dig a hole and deposits about one hundred rubbery eggs, each the size of a ping-pong ball. The turtle disguises the nest by flinging sand over it. Once she leaves the nest, she never returns.
After incubating for two months, the wee ones break out of their shells and thrash about together causing the walls of the nest to collapse and the bottom of the hole to rise. Once near the surface, the hatch-lings wait until the sand temperature cools to emerge. Therefore, most will emerge after dark. Once out of the nest, the turtles make a mad dash to the water and swim offshore where they will live for several years in seaweed beds drifting along the Gulf Stream. I however, have scrambled during the day to get as many to shore as I could before the birds could get to them. As the turtles grow older they move into coastal waters.
Artificial lighting on marine turtle nesting beaches disrupts the ability of hatchlings to find the sea from their nest, an effect termed “hatchling disorientation.” Read and watch forums, there are many groups who fight to save these little guys. Scubaboard has a staunch group of divers who fight every year in the Lauderdale area to save these little guys. In Brevard county we have numerous groups who mark nests and keep watch over them.
Sometimes people encounter sea turtles on their own while walking on the beach at night during nesting season. If this happens to you, here are a few simple rules to follow:
* Do not walk on the beach with a flashlight or shine a light in the sea turtle’s face. The light may cause the female to abort the nesting process, or other sea turtles nearby may be discouraged from nesting if there are lights on the beach. I sit sometimes on the beach for happy hour into the evening hours. Tourists are actually out with flashlights “looking” for nests. I watched one couple for about 20 minutes last season and walked up to them nicely and asked them if they were looking for turtles. They said yes and I explained that it was illegal to have flashlights on and they would probably have more luck, finding a nice spot and relaxing. They did so. They stated the hotel told them about the turtles. I personally would think if the hotel told them about the turtles they should also post about what violations cost.
* Do not take pictures using flashes. This high-intensity light can be even more disturbing than the flashlights.
* Stay clear and out of sight of the turtle until she begins laying eggs, otherwise you may scare her back into the sea.
* For your safety, stay away from the turtle’s head. Sea turtles, especially loggerheads, have very strong jaws and can harm you if provoked.
* Do not handle the eggs or put any foreign objects into the nest. You can introduce bacteria or injure the eggs.
* Do not handle or ride the sea turtle. In addition to being illegal, you may injure the turtle or cause her to leave without finishing nesting.
* Do not disturb tracks left by turtles. Researchers sometimes use the tracks to identify the type of turtles that nested and to find and mark the nests.
* Do enjoy the experience, and remember it for the rest of your life.
Protect our sea turtles. They are impressive dinosaurs of years past! I for one would not want them to disappear.
Please see below link for news on nesting early in Jacksonville area. Courtesy of a reader. Thanks for the heads up!