|The beaches of southwest Florida have long been an important nesting area for the loggerhead sea turtle. Loggerhead sea turtles emerge from the Gulf of Mexico to nest on our beaches each summer (May 1 to August 31). Females crawl from the Gulf late at night to lay their nests. Loggerheads deposit, on average, 100 ping pong ball sized eggs in each nest. They usually lay 2 to 3 nests per season on a 2-3 year cycle. The eggs begin to hatch after about 60 days. As the sand begin to cool (usually late evening) the hatchlings scratch their way out of the nest emerging as a group. As the young turtles exit the nest they instinctually seek the Gulf by looking for natural light reflecting off the water.
Upon reaching the water, hatchlings begin their journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The first days of their lives are spent swimming directly offshore. Once there, the tiny loggerheads crawl into mats of drifting algae called sargassum. They spend the first few years of their lives passively drifting on their oceanic rafts feeding on almost anything they can catch in the sargassum. After a few years, the juvenile loggerheads leave their protective nursery and move to inshore feeding grounds where they spend the rest of their pre-adult lives. Ultimately, at the age of 12 – 30, adult, female, loggerhead sea turtles return to the beach of their birth to lay nests of their own. Very few sea turtles survive to this point. Estimates predict that about one in a thousand hatchlings survive to adulthood.
The Collier County Environmental Services Department (CCESD) is an active participant in an ongoing statewide nesting sea turtle population study. As a permit requirement for beach renourishment, the CCESD is responsible for the monitoring of 23.7 miles of beach. Biologists patrol the beaches each morning looking for the tell-tale signs of sea turtle nesting. Each sea turtle emergence is examined and determinations are made as to whether the crawl is a nest or a false crawl (a non-nesting emergence). Each nest is marked with stakes and warning tape and, if necessary, covered with a metal screen to protect it from predators. After a nest has been marked, it is carefully monitored for signs of tidal inundation, predation, and finally hatching. After hatching, the Collier County biologists excavate the nest and determine how many hatchlings emerged from the nest. The eggs are counted and a hatching success (the number of hatched egg shells in relation to the total number of eggs) is calculated for each nest.
Do hatchlings need a full moon to find the ocean after they emerge from their nests?
How do hatchlings know the direction of the ocean when they emerge from their nests?
How long do sea turtles live?
How long does it take before the eggs hatch?
How many nests are laid in Florida?
How many nests does each female sea turtle lay?
How many species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened?
How many species of sea turtles are there in Florida?
How much do sea turtles weigh?
What can I do to help protect Florida’s sea turtles?
Do not leave fishing line behind. This entangles many types of wildlife including sea turtles.
Do not feed sea turtles or other wildlife. This encourages them to approach people in high traffic areas.
Never buy products made from sea turtles.
Reduce the amount of plastic garbage you produce.
Oppose coastal armoring. The fewer obstacles sea turtles have to overcome, the better their chances of successful nesting.
Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use. Ordinary lawn and garden fertilizers wash into coastal waters killing plants and animals. Look for biodegradable alternatives, and correctly dispose of used toxic chemicals.
Adopt a Turtle. Join and support the Sea Turtle Survival League by calling 1-800-678-7853 or writing to 4424 N.W. 13th St. Suite A-1, Gainesville, FL 32609.
Buy a License Plate. The next time you renew your automobile registration at your local tax collector’s office, request a specialty sea turtle plate. The extra dollars go toward protection, research, and recovery programs at the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
What do the hatchlings do after they leave their nests?
What is a hatchling’s chance of survival?
What should I do if I find hatchlings wandering in a road, parking lot, or in directions other than toward the water?
What should I do if I find sea turtle hatchlings on the beach?
What should I do if I see a sea turtle nesting?
What threatens sea turtle survival?
Human Predation–Though most countries have laws against harvesting sea turtle eggs for food, the laws are not well enforced. Adult turtles are also harvested for meat, and their shells are made into jewelry and souvenirs.
Ingesting Plastic and other litter and debris–Thousands of sea turtles die each year from eating and becoming entangled in plastic bags and balloons floating in the water. While releasing helium balloons into the air is a common way to celebrate and event, the balloons end up drifting in the oceans where sea turtles mistake them for one of their main food sources, jellyfish.
Artificial Lighting–Nesting sea turtles look for dark, quiet beaches to lay their eggs. Lights from buildings along the beach distract and confuse the females as well as the hatchlings. When the young turtles emerge from the nest at night, they are drawn toward the lights instead of the water. A single light can cause hundreds of misdirected hatchlings to be killed by automobiles on nearby roads and parking lots, dehydrate in the morning sun, and increase their chance of being killed by predators like birds, crabs, and even cats.
Coastal Armoring–Sea walls, sandbags, and other barriers built to protect beachfront property from erosion block female turtles from ideal nesting grounds. The developing coastline is rapidly encroaching on suitable nesting beaches.
Beach Nourishment–Another way to combat property erosion on beaches is to bring in truckloads of sand. If the sand is of a different consistency or is too compacted, the nesting behaviors of turtles can be drastically altered. If the renourishment is done during nesting season, there is also a possibility nests will be buried too far underground or be run over by trucks.
Pollution–Everything from oil spills to fertilizer runoff can contaminate the ocean habitat of the sea turtles, killing their food sources and causing terminal diseases.
When do sea turtles nest?
Who should I call if I find a stranded turtle?
All information courtesy Florida Marine Research Institute & Collier County Environmental Services Department