Be kind to marine life during July 4 weekend

(Dolphin photo credits: Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, taken under NMFS Permit No. 15543;  Turtle nest photo credit: Mote Marine Laboratory)

Tips for beachgoers and boaters

Protect sea turtles on the beach

(Right: Sea turtle tracks with a marker flag placed by Mote's Sea Turtle Patrol, which documents turtle nesting along 35 miles of Sarasota County beaches.)

The first local sea turtle hatchlings of the year emerged June 17 from a loggerhead sea turtle nest on Casey Key, according to Mote Marine Laboratory scientists who monitor nesting along 35 miles of beaches from Longboat Key through Venice.

The Sarasota Police Department and Mote, a nonprofit research and education institution, would like to remind residents and visitors to help keep local waters and beaches safe for summer recreation and sea turtle nesting season. This message will be especially important during the July 4 weekend, when local waters and beaches will be busy for the holiday and the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix off Lido Beach.

The Sarasota Police Department, Mote and Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix event partners will be reminding the public of the Sarasota County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance, Chapter 54, Article XXIII of the Sarasota County Code of Ordinances, which protects endangered sea turtles on all local beaches, including Lido Beach, throughout nesting season, May 1 – Oct. 31.

The Sarasota County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance requires that any “temporary structures, including but not limited to beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas which have the potential for entrapment of marine turtles and which may interfere with the use of the natural beach environment for nesting habitat, be removed from the beach nightly, from sunset to sunrise.” Beach furniture and other beach equipment, toys or trash left on the beach overnight during sea turtle nesting season can pose a serious entanglement hazard and obstacle for sea turtles and their hatchlings. To comply with ordinances, beachgoers should wait until at least 6:30 a.m. to set up furniture or equipment. This will allow any new turtle crawls and nests to be documented by Mote scientists. If you see turtle tracks not yet documented by Mote (documented tracks are crossed out with an ‘X’), please avoid placing furniture on them if possible.

In addition, please do not approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, do not make noise around turtles and their nests, and do not use fireworks, flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. Artificial lights can disorient nesting turtles and their hatchlings, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea.

Beachgoers should stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes. Dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

All sea turtle species are threatened or endangered, and they are protected by state and federal laws. The Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act of 1977 (FETSA) established Florida's policy to conserve and wisely manage its resources, especially endangered and threatened species, such as all five species of Florida’s sea turtles. The United States Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) and Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act (MTPA) (Sec. 379.2431, Florida Statutes) prohibit the taking, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, molestation and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs. Sec. 379.2431(1)(e)(5), Florida Statutes, states that any person who violates MTPA by taking, possessing, disturbing, mutilating, destroying, molesting or harassing any marine turtle species, or their eggs or nest commits a third degree felony. The Florida legislature also established the Endangered and Threatened Species Reward Program (Sec. 379.2292, Florida Statutes) to reward people who provide information leading to the arrest and conviction of violators of MTPA.

Personal property on the beach:
In addition to marine, foot, and vehicle patrols, the Sarasota Police Department will be protecting public safety during the July 4 weekend by posting signs prohibiting beachgoers from storing and leaving unattended personal property on Lido Beach. The newly enacted Sarasota City Code Sec. 21-44 regulates, among other things, the storage of unattended personal property on public property. City Code Sec. 21-44 will prohibit beachgoers from storing and leaving unattended any personal property on Lido Beach during the July 4 holiday weekend. This is for the protection of all beachgoers and their belongings, ensuring a safe, orderly and peaceful beach-going experience.

Watch out for dolphins, manatees and turtles at sea

(Right: A Sarasota Bay dolphin bears scars from a boat strike. Boaters can minimize risks to dolphins by following the tips below.)

Dolphins give birth during late spring and summer, and four dolphin calves have been born so far this year in Sarasota Bay. Dolphins do not, or cannot always get out of the way of approaching boats, and fatal collisions have been documented in Sarasota Bay.  The Bay’s resident dolphins frequent shallow waters where they may be unable to dive below an approaching boat, and naïve newborn dolphins lack the skills and experience to avoid boats, and have to surface more frequently to breathe than do older dolphins. Most dolphin injuries from boat strikes have occurred in the weeks surrounding July 4.

Manatees are also on the move in the Bay for foraging and mating. People might observe mating herds: several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female.
Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate before the females come ashore to nest. So far this year, Mote's animal rescuers have responded to or received many distressed or deceased sea turtles, including several affected by human activity.

Tips for boaters:

  • Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines, comply with slow speed zone signs and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins.
  • Follow 10 dolphin-friendly viewing tips.  Click here for a PDF. These tips were made with dolphins in mind, but they're also great guidelines for the best ways to view all large marine animals.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
  • Never feed marine wildlife. Click here to watch a PSA about why it’s harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins:
  • Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life. 
  • If you observe a manatee mating herd - several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female - watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might disrupt the animals' natural mating behavior or put people into harm's way. Adult manatees typically weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and people could be seriously injured.

Emergency contacts

If you see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle or marine mammal in Sarasota or Manatee County waters, please contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 888-345-2335. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).