One of the cooler aspects of living in Florida is how close we are to some spectacular wildlife. Being a Floridian means regularly seeing animals that the rest of the world will only find in books: gators, manatees, dolphin, and a host of exotic-looking bird species, to name a few. But being close to humans isn’t always so great for these animals who make their homes in our land and waters.
May 1 marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on our beaches. This lasts well through the summer, ending October 31. Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle to nest in Pinellas County, and females generally nest from early May through August. Eggs typically hatch 50 to 60 days after the mother lays them.
The county wants to reminds residents and visitors to be vigilant about these vulnerable nests, and to help do your part to conserve them.
What Can You Do?
Firstly, if you see and adult or baby sea turtle, do not approach them or impede their progress. Yes, those baby turtles are the cutest, but they need space to find their way. If you see an animal that appears lost or in distress, you can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-3922 or dial *FWC from a cell phone. You can also report sightings at bit.ly/turtle-report.
Hatchlings use starlight and moonlight reflecting off the water to find their way to the ocean, and if they become misled by artificial light, they can get disoriented and die. If you live on or near the beach, turn off your outside lights, close curtains and avoid using flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. Residents who live in beachside properties should make sure their lighting is turtle-friendly.
Most of Pinellas County’s beach communities have ordinances prohibiting lighting that casts glare onto the beach during turtle nesting season. Find the FWC’s sea turtle lighting guidelines at bit.ly/sea-turtle-lighting.
The county does advise people to remove obstacles, such as sandcastles or sand pits, that may interfere with nesting turtles or make it difficult for hatchlings to get to the water.
Also, help keep the beach clean! This is a good idea in general, but eliminating trash or other debris that may entangle baby hatchlings and adult turtles is also a big help to the population.
If you spot turtle tracks or a possible nest that doesn’t appear to be protected by stakes or ribbon, call 1-888-404-3922.
Help the Helpers
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium monitors the beaches from Clearwater Beach through Treasure Island; Sea Turtle Trackers monitors the southern beaches of St. Pete Beach, Shell Key and Outback. Honeymoon Island State Park rangers monitor the nests there.
Staff members conduct early-morning patrols to locate new nesting sites, and mark the nests and tape them off to avoid human disturbance. Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead turtles are endangered and threatened species, protected under state and federal law, and it’s illegal to disturbing them, their nests or even a dead turtle.
If you have questions or concerns about sea turtle nesting, call the FWC at 1-888-404-3922 or dial *FWC from a cell phone, or visit bit.ly/turtle-report.