Be cautious! Peak season for sea turtles has arrived

■ BY SUE ERWINTurtle Hole on beach web

It’s been a bustling summer for baby sea turtles this year, and residents and guests need to remember to refrain from interfering with this natural process.

The Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association volunteers want to remind everyone to be respectful of the nest areas. “We have had a series of hatchling disorientations, from the dunes to the Range Light. Please be sure to turn off lights at night. It doesn’t take much to disorient these tiny creatures. Please do your part to keep them headed to the ocean,” said a turtle patrol volunteer.

If you’re walking on the beach at night, don’t use a flashlight unless it’s a turtle-safe red light. Always remove beach furniture when you are leaving the seaside, and fill in any holes around you with sand. A hatchling could fall into a hole, get trapped and become easy prey for birds or other predators.

Also last weekend, a nesting turtle got herself into a giant hole on a Boca Grande beach.

“Luckily, she was able to get herself out. Hatchlings wouldn’t have been so lucky. Please fill in holes you see on the beach, and if you see one being dug, remind the diggers of the dangers to humans and turtles,” a turtle patrol member said.

On average, sea turtles lay 110 eggs in a nest and average between two and eight nests each season. The eggs will hatch in 45 to 60 days after a nest is covered.

Only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood. They can live to be more than 100 years old. Hatchlings face many predators, both on their way to the water and once they get into the ocean. On the beach, birds, crabs, ants, bobcats, raccoons and coyotes and even unleashed dogs are common threats to nests and newly hatched turtles. Once in the ocean, they face a host of marine predators until they reach adulthood.

If you find hatchlings on the beach, it is recommended you let them crawl to the ocean on their own. Maintain a safe distance, and make sure lights are off so hatchlings don’t become disoriented. Do not remove them from the nest. If they are wandering away from the ocean or are found during the day with birds circling, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC for assistance.

As of July 29, the association reported 690 loggerhead (caretta caretta) turtle nests and two green sea (chelonia mydas) turtle nests on the island. A total of 1,037 false crawls have been reported on the island. The BGSTA is actively looking for volunteers. Training and supplies are provided.

Donations for the nonprofit organization are always appreciated. You can drop off donations at the Boca Beacon office at 431 Park Ave. Items currently needed include: Black permanent markers, large and small Ziploc bags, latex gloves, rubber mallets, bright yellow paint, 5-gallon cans and 3/8” x 1.5” x 48” stakes. Monetary donations are always welcome.

For more information, go to facebook.com/seaturtleawareness to find out more details.