Sea turtles are one of the oldest creatures on earth. They live their whole life in the sea and only come on shore to lay their eggs. We love sea turtles and are excited that they have chosen our beaches as their nesting site during May through October! Here are some simple tips for making your night beach walk fun and safe for you and the nesting and hatchling sea turtles:
• When you go out on the beach at night, let your eyes adjust to the ambient light. You will be amazed at how much you can see without man-made lights. If you take a flashlight, make sure it has red LED bulbs that emit long wavelengths (590-750nm) which are less likely to disturb the sea turtles.
• If you see a nesting female on the beach, give her plenty of room to find a place to nest. Do not shine a light at her or take photos with a flash. Remain quiet, behind her, and out of her sight. If she is disturbed, she may abandon her nest and return to the sea. Also, do not disturb her tracks. The tracks are very important because our volunteers use them to locate the nest and protected it. Our volunteers also collect data that can help us better understand the species. After the female nests, the eggs incubate around 50-65 days. The eggs typically hatch at night when it is cooler and the hatchlings have a better chance avoiding their many predators. Ghost crabs, coyotes, racoons, dogs and birds see hatchlings as a delightful meal. It’s estimated that only one in 1,000 hatchlings survive to adulthood.
• Once out of the nest, sea turtle hatchlings instinctively move toward the shore. If distracted by other lights, the hatchlings can easily get disoriented and crawl toward a house or road. Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with them, their hatchlings or eggs, living or dead, is subject to stiff penalty. If you are lucky enough to witness a sea turtle on land, enjoy the experience from a distance and cherish the memory for life.
Please check out our St. George Island Volunteer Turtlers Facebook page for more information and regular updates. The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve also holds talks on sea turtles every Wednesday, June through August (except on the 4th of July) at 108 Island Drive in Eastpoint. The Friends of the Reserve has Turtle Safe flashlights for sale in the Reserve gift shop. For more information on sea turtles, at www.myfwc.co/wildlifehabitats/