Sea Turtle Nesting Season is underway on Greater Fort Lauderdale’s beaches, where from March through October thousands of female sea turtles will begin their annual rite of spring and return to South Florida beaches to lay eggs.
Greater Fort Lauderdale’s coastal residents and beach visitors can help sea turtles during the nesting season by keeping beaches clean, being aware of nesting sites and reducing artificial lighting near beaches that can distract and confuse mothers and hatchlings.
Turtles deposit approximately 100 golf-ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. They then leave the nest site and reenter the water.
Since adult sea turtles do not nurture their hatchlings, the female never sees the nest site again. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. Approximately half of all emergencies result in a female crawling on the beach for long distances and reentering the water without digging a nest. These are called “false crawls” and usually occur because the turtle was disturbed or it could not find a suitable nest site. The crawl tracks left on the beach are always made by female sea turtles and they resemble marks left by a tractor tire. Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.
Incubation of the nests takes about 45-55 days. Here in Broward County the eggs that are deposited in the chambers are either left to incubate naturally or are moved, (relocated) to a safer area of the beach. Some of the nests are relocated because of the extent of the development on our beaches and the bright lights from condos, streets, and highway traffic. The relocation process serves to protect the emerging hatchlings so they can exit the nest and traverse the beach to the water on their own. Nests that are not moved are those that are already on safe beaches.
After incubation, the hatchlings emerge from the nest en masse and, using various environmental and inherited cues, quickly migrate to the water’s edge. If artificial lights are lighting the beach, the hatchlings will be disoriented, travel in the wrong direction, and possibly never make it to the water.
Once in the water the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a perilous struggle to survive to adulthood. The best scientific estimates available indicate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive (anywhere from 12-50 years) to become a reproductive adult sea turtle.
DID YOU KNOW? Broward County had a record-breaking sea turtle nesting season in 2016 with a total of 3,567 nests laid overall, making it the highest year on record since the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program (BCSTCP) began counting nests in 1981. (Edging just ahead of the previous record in 2012 when 3,540 nests were laid).
5 ways to save sea turtles
1. Turn Out Lights Visible From the Beach!
Sea turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night. Artificial lighting confuses the hatchlings and causes them to head inland instead of out to sea – putting them in dangerous situations which can lead to death. Artificial lights also discourage adult females from nesting on the beach. Short of turning off your lights, you can also take measures to shield, redirect and lower the intensity of the lights on your property.
2. Reduce the Amount of Garbage You Produce and Clean Up Trash You See On the Beach.
Sea turtles can become tangled in plastic and trash both on the shore and in the water. Discarded items such as fishing lines, balloons and plastic bags may also be confused for food and eaten by sea turtles, often resulting in injury or death.
3. Be Aware of Sea Turtle Nesting Areas and Avoid Nesting and Hatching Turtles.
Sea turtles are cute, and therefore tempting to touch and observe – but flashlights and people disturb turtles when they are nesting, or trying to nest, on the beach. Make sure to give nesting areas plenty of space, and do not disturb females as they emerge from the ocean looking for a place to nest. Also be conscious of where nesting areas are so that you can avoid trampling the hatchlings as they head to the water.
4. Reduce the Amount of Chemicals You Use.
The chemicals you use on your lawn and in your home can actually wash into the coastal waters – killing plants and animals. It is very important to properly dispose of toxic chemicals and, even better, find alternative products such as biodegradable solutions.
There are countless ways in which you can make a positive difference in the lives of sea turtles. Organize a clean-up day with your friends and clear the beach of litter, give a presentation to your neighborhood or local school on things they can do to save sea turtles, and most importantly, talk to others about what they can do to make sure they are not putting these important creatures in danger.