5 things you can do to protect sea turtles during nesting season

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Baby turtles crawl to the sea

Baby turtles find their way to the sea. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The marine turtle nesting season runs from May 1 through October 31, and all beach-goers are asked to be very careful to follow some basic rules to protect these wonderful creatures. Sea turtles are one of our coastline’s greatest assets, and their nesting activities are vital to their survival. Our beaches and resorts have encroached on their natural terrain, and it is important that we respect them and go out of our way not to disturb them, or their nesting habits.

During nesting season, mother turtles crawl out of the sea during the night, dig a hole in the sand using their flippers and lay 100 to 150 eggs. One mother turtle may create as many as three to eight nests in the course of the season. After a 45 day to 70 day gestation period, hatchlings will emerge from the nest and use the light of the moon to direct them to the sea. It’s one of the most amazing – and adorable – sights on the beach! Most beaches monitor these activities carefully during nesting season to protect nests and hatchlings, so watch for signs and respect the process. In most areas, beachside homes, condos and resorts are asked to turn down or turn off lights at night during nesting season because the artificial light can confuse the mother turtle and the hatchlings, which rely on the natural light to direct them to the water. This season, a mother turtle was retrieved from a swimming pool in Hilton Head, South Carolina, after she became disoriented and slid into the pool apparently thinking she had returned to sea.

Related story: Construction crews carelessly wipe out thousands of turtle eggs and hatchlings on Trinidad and Tobago beach

In our part of the world, sea turtle nesting predominantly occurs from North Carolina south, including both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, as well as southern Texas. It also occurs throughout the Caribbean islands and from northern Mexico (both coasts) south through Central America and the northern coasts of South America.

So, here are a few tips to help keep sea turtles from becoming more endangered:

1. If you see a nesting area, steer clear and let nature follow its course. Of course, it’s hard sometimes to resist the temptation, but just walk on by. If you sense that it’s safe to observe a turtle while nesting, stay a safe distance away.

2. Do not shine lights on the beach at night where nesting takes place. This could confuse and upset a nesting turtle. Turtles can’t see red spectrum, so if you’re walking along the beach at night, you could use red cellophane to cover your flashlight.

3. If  you are staying in a beachside home, hotel room or condo, turn your porch lights off at night and close your curtains so as not to confuse the nesting turtles or hatchlings.

4. When you are done on the beach for the day, remove your materials – towels, toys, chairs, etc. – so they don’t get in the turtle’s way.

5. If you encounter the amazing sight of hatchlings scratching their way across the sand on their journey to the sea, stay a safe distance away and don’t fire off a camera flash on them.  Only about one in a thousand of these babies will survive to adulthood because of the many natural – and man-made – obstacles they face both before they reach the sea and afterward. Let’s not do anything to reduce those odds any further!

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