Turtles are getting busy on island beaches

crawlsBY MARCY SHORTUSE – Sea turtle season is heating up, with hatches about to begin and large numbers of nests to be found on island beaches. So far we have 283 nests, as well as seven green turtle nests. Last year at approximately this time, we had 158 loggerhead and four green nests, which means that 2015 is looking up for our flippered friends.

While much of the beach activity has quieted down, there are still people leaving large tents and beach furniture around after sunset.

“You have to take everything off the beach at night,” said permit holder and patroller Maureen O’Connell. “A turtle cannot back up. If she becomes entangled in a tent or furniture, she is in danger. If you get a chance to walk the beach, please take along a plastic grocery bag or something to pick up trash, too. Every member of turtle patrol does carry a garbage bag, but some of us are getting a bit too old to bend over too much. Any help is appreciated.”

tent-tracksApproximately two weeks ago, the tent pictured here was found on the beach overnight just north of 1st Street. You can see where a sea turtle walked right up to the tent stands, then right through the middle, to find a place to make her nest. While that turtle was lucky, many are not.

Also, fill in any holes you or your children dig at the beach. Not only can they pose a threat to mature sea turtles, but they mean certain death for hatchlings headed to the water.

Two of the biggest enemies sea turtles can face, short of predators, are lights shining on the beach and beach furniture. When baby sea turtles hatch it is at night. They immediately seek out the light of the moon and head toward it, as it guides them to the water. When artificial light from a house is the brightest and closest thing they see, they head for that instead. They can end up on roadways, in swimming pools and backyards … and it inevitably ends in a tragedy.

Beach furniture and holes that are dug by children playing in the sand become deadly obstacles. Adults and babies alike can become entangled very easily. They also can’t back up, they are a one-way-only creature. Babies fall in the holes and can’t get out, and will die before being found.

Coastal residents and visitors are encouraged to follow these turtle-friendly tips during nesting season, May 1 – Oct. 31.

Do:

  • If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance
  • Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October
  • Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water
  • Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water
  • Pick up all trash left on the beach, as turtles can become entangled in it as well

Do Not:

  • Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles
  • Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach
  • Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water
  • Use fireworks on the beach

Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty. If you witness anyone disturbing a turtle or find an injured or disoriented hatchling or adult, please notify agents with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), the local sheriff’s department, and/or Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Program at 388-4331. If you find a dead or injured sea turtle, contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 988-0212.

Sea turtles aren’t the only nesting animals around this time of the year. Please watch out for nesting snowy plovers and least terns, as they are endangered as well and will abandon a nest, if it is tampered with, or if people or dogs come to close. If you see a roped-off area on the beach, whether for turtles or birds, please do not walk inside the area, as nests can be extremely difficult to spot.