This week marks the halfway point of sea turtle nesting season and Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program’s (STCRP) 36th year. So far this year, STCRP has documented a record-breaking number of nests from the north end of Longboat Key to Venice – 4,385 loggerhead and 77 green turtle nests. This is an increase of more than 1 percent for loggerheads and 1,183 percent for green sea turtles compared with the entire 2016 nesting season.
“With these significant increases in sea turtle nests it is even more important for beachgoers and local residents to be aware of how their actions could affect our local hatchlings,” said Mote Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West. “This nesting season, we have already had over 1,200 hatchlings come through Mote’s Hatchling Hospital. The most common reasons for hatchlings to be admitted is disorientation due to artificial lights along the beach and being injured by predators.”
During summer months Mote Aquarium visitors can view sea turtle hatchlings in rehabilitation via an exhibit window in the Hatchling Hospital. These individuals will receive medical care, and when they are deemed healthy, they will be released either on the beach or via boat.
“This is a busy time for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program," said Mote Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella. "The Sea Turtle Patrol has walked the local beaches every morning for the last few months, diligently marking and monitoring nests, and now we are starting to see the evidence of hatches.” When asked how the public can help, Mazzarella replied, “The two most important ways a person can help sea turtle hatchlings is to stay off the beaches at night so you don’t disturb nesting turtles or hatchlings and to shield or turn off lights visible to the beach.”
On the nesting beaches, artificial light from waterfront properties or people with flashlights or cell phone lights can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. Also, beach furniture, holes, trash and other obstacles can impede sea turtles and their young. Mote encourages coastal residents and visitors to follow the turtle-friendly tips listed below during nesting season, May 1 - Oct. 31.
On the Shore
- 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
- 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
On the Water
- Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life.
- 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.
- Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
If you suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle or has possession of a sea turtle or any of its parts, please call FWC, call your local sheriff’s department and/or call Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331.
If you find sea turtle hatchlings that are not on the beach or are headed away from the ocean, call Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (941) 388-4331 for instructions. Put rescued hatchlings into a bucket with a layer of damp sand and cover the bucket with a towel. Do not put hatchlings in water or take them into air conditioning. Hatchlings heading towards the ocean should be left alone. 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 see a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, 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 888-404-FWCC (3922).