Did you know that coastal Florida is where the vast majority of American sea turtles return to create their nests? Or that every species of sea turtle is currently considered to be threatened or endangered? Or that you have an important role to play in protecting this ancient species?
Sea turtles begin to come ashore in Florida to make their nests in May; eggs generally incubate for about two months, and hatching continues through October.
So what can you do to protect sea turtles and help these amazing creatures return to thriving?
What kind of turtles nest in Panama City Beach
For many years, the loggerhead turtle was thought to be the only sea turtle that made nests in the Panama City Beach area. Full grown loggerheads are around 3 feet long and weigh between 200-350 pounds. However, a few green turtles and leatherback turtles made their nests on our beaches in 2012. Most turtles return to the same beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs, so this is particularly interesting.
Keep lights off the beach at night
Turtles come ashore to lay their eggs at night. If they are disturbed, they will abandon their nest and head back into the water; their eggs are dropped into the water, and the entire clutch will be lost.
When the eggs hatch, the hatchlings head towards the brightest light they can identify. In an undisturbed environment, that would be the moon reflected over the water of the ocean, but in our modern era, they can become confused by flashlights, porch lights, or cell phone camera flashes. Hatchlings need to get into the water quickly, and on their own.
If you see a nesting turtle, alert Fish and Wildlife
If you’re out on the beach and see either a nesting turtle, a nest, or turtle tracks, let Turtle Watch know. These volunteers do great work with protecting nests, monitoring them for hatching, and collecting disoriented baby turtles and releasing them on a dark beach. They also keep track of how many turtle nests are laid and how many baby turtles hatch, and look for any hatchlings that were unable to escape the nest, helping them make their way to the water.
These are experienced volunteers and professionals; if you’re interested in helping with their work, contact them, but please do not interfere with the turtles or nesting otherwise!
I really want my kids to see a nest hatch
Exposing children to the natural cycle of wildlife is a fantastic way to get them interested in biology and science. It’s important to remember, though, that turtles are wild animals, and that as cute as they may look, it’s important not to interfere with them.
If you want to know more about a nest, or have the chance to see it hatch, contact Turtle Watch and ask about their Adopt-a-Nest program. They often connect with local schools to give them a chance to see a nest excavated after the hatching has been completed. It’s important to be aware, however, that not all eggs hatch, and some hatchlings are unable to escape the nest and die before volunteers find them.
Sea turtles are gorgeous in the water, living solitary lives with few natural predators. By making small changes to how we develop our beaches and what we do when we see these magnificent creatures, we’ve been able to reduce the impact that humans have on the world of turtles, making it easier for us to co-exist. If you see a nesting turtle, let Turtle Watch know so that they can continue to protect these animals.