Respect the Locals: How to Protect Sea Turtles This Nesting Season

February 26, 2021

As daily life returns a little bit more back to normal, here’s how we can continue to help sea turtles in The Palm Beaches.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since COVID-19 became a daily reality for humans, but for sea turtles that nest in The Palm Beaches, March 2020 was the start of one of the most productive nesting seasons on record. Despite the pandemic, natural life carried on, especially on Juno Beach.
 
During the 2020 season, Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) documented 16,935 sea turtle nests on its 9.5-mile stretch of beach, making it the third-highest nesting season in the books. While beach closures threw a wrench in plans for visitors and locals, it certainly boded well for nesting mothers. According to LMC's data, loggerhead nesting success on Juno Beach was 60 percent when they first arrived in April during beach closures. Whereas when beaches reopened, nesting success dropped to 48 percent. There was a smaller proportion of false crawls during closures, which is when nesting mothers crawl onto the beach and return to the water without laying eggs.

A nesting leatherback sea turtle
A nesting leatherback; photo courtesy Loggerhead Marinelife Center

It’s estimated that 800,000 hatchlings were produced from last year’s nesting season alone. While we celebrate this statistic, we must take into consideration the stark reality that very few make it to adulthood with the threats they experience, including predators, fisheries bycatch, ingesting plastics, illegal harvesting, entanglement in marine debris and more. The thought of losing this species could be a devastating blow not only to oceans but to our health as well. Commonly said at LMC, “Sea turtles tell us the health of the ocean, which in turn tells us the health of our planet.” These indicator species serve as our global ambassadors for ocean conservation.
 
As we return to one of nature’s greatest symphonies this nesting season, we ask you to respect the locals – the leatherback, loggerhead and green sea turtles that nest along The Palm Beaches. From March 1 to Oct. 31, these longtime locals will make a reappearance on one of the world’s most densely nested beaches right in our backyard. In welcoming the season, LMC researchers remind beachgoers to use best practices to ensure nesting mothers have optimal conditions to lay their eggs.
 
Note: Any interaction with sea turtles requires a permit from state authorities.

Sea turtle hatchling
An emerging hatchling; photo courtesy Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Sea Turtle Do's

  • Keep your distance: Never approach or touch a nesting sea turtle. Keep your distance, always stay out of the line of sight, remain quiet and keep all lights off (including flash photography & cell phones). Touching, prodding or shining lights may cause her to not lay eggs or disturb her and affect how well she covers and camouflages the nest.
  • Let hatchlings emerge: If you see hatchlings on the beach, allow them to crawl to the ocean on their own. Do not remove or dig hatchlings out of a nest. Removing sand above the nest will make it more difficult for the hatchlings to emerge.
  • Turn off lights: Keep lights at your house off while not in use and close your blinds at night to avoid adding to the overall sky glow. Sea turtles crawl towards the brightest horizon, and artificial lighting can cause them to disorient.
  • Fill in your holes: Fill in all holes and knock over sandcastles so that nesting turtles and hatchlings do not fall into them and are not hindered as they crawl on the beach.
A marked sea turtle nesting site
Marked sea turtle nesting site; photo courtesy Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Sea Turtle Don'ts

  • Leave it behind: Remove obstacles such as beach chairs, tables, water sport equipment and umbrellas before dark. A turtle nests every three to four feet. Therefore, there are high chances of puncturing sea turtle nests or eggs when umbrellas are staked into the ground.
  • Dig holes: Avoid digging holes or using shovels to not interfere with incubating sea turtle nests.
  • Be a litterbug: Do not leave any trash behind. Trash can hinder nesting and hatchling turtles from crawling to and from the beach. Also, sea turtles may accidentally ingest trash left behind.
  • Release balloons: Don’t release balloons. They travel far distances and can be eaten by sea turtles and other marine organisms.
  • Host bonfires: Bonfires may be accidentally situated on a nesting site. Also, hatchlings can often be lured or disoriented by light emitted by fires.

Protocol During Inclement Weather

During periods of heavier wind or wave action on Florida’s coastline, sea turtle eggs may become exposed. LMC advises beachgoers to leave exposed eggs and nests untouched; disoriented hatchlings should be brought to the Center’s 24-hour hatchling rescue cooler, which is located at the entrance of the center. Threatened and endangered hatchlings should be transported with extreme care, in a bucket with damp sand and no water, to prevent accidental drowning.
 
If you discover a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle, please call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (*FWC) or LMC’s Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline at 561.603.0211.

Thank you for doing your part to make the 2021 nesting season a success! For more information, please visit LMC’s website at marinelife.org.

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