Trapped Turtle Highlights Need to Clear and Stack Beach Furniture

Sea Turtle Patrol volunteers freed a loggerhead turtle from a beach chair caught on her shell Thursday, June 12, on Longboat Key — a reminder that it’s important to remove and stack beach furniture each evening during turtle nesting season.

Throughout nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol monitors local sea turtle nesting every morning along 35 miles of local beaches from Longboat Key through Venice, and specially trained patrollers are often the first to spot mother turtles and hatchlings in distress.

Thursday, the trapped turtle was found by members of the Longboat Key Turtle Watch — a subgroup of volunteers operating under the government-issued research permit held by Mote. The volunteers freed the turtle, communicating closely with Mote scientists about their activities. The turtle returned to sea without leaving a nest.

While Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrollers are specially trained and operating under a government-issued permit, members of the public should report any sea turtles in distress to Mote or to designated wildlife authorities in your area before taking any action. (Emergency contacts below.)

Thursday’s incident serves as a reminder to keep beaches turtle friendly from May through October, when turtles are emerging each night to nest.

Beach furniture can be an obstacle to nesting sea turtles and may cause them to false crawl — emerge and depart without leaving a nest. Furniture can also pose a hazard: Turtles can become entangled and carry furniture back into the water. Each night, furniture should removed from the beach, or at very least pulled back to the dune line where the vegetation meets the beach. When furniture must be left at the dune line, it should be stacked, which helps prevent turtles from getting it caught on their shells.

“Most people we meet on the beach are interested in keeping the local sea turtles safe, and sometimes they are surprised to learn that furniture can be such an obstacle for these animals,” said Kristen Mazzarella, Senior Biologist with Mote's Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. “We have seen several nests laid under chaise lounges, and from time to time a turtle gets stuck. It’s important to us that our local residents and visitors have all the knowledge they need to keep the beaches turtle friendly.”

All sea turtles are threatened or endangered species protected under state and federal laws. Removing furniture is done on a voluntary basis to protect turtles on Longboat Key, and nightly furniture removal during nesting season is required on other county beaches by the Sarasota County Marine Turtle Protection Code. For more information from Sarasota County, visit: https://www.scgov.net/ResourceProtection/Pages/SeaTurtle.aspx

Removing furniture is one of several key tips for keeping beaches turtle friendly during nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31. Here is a full list:

On the Shore

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 stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach
  • Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water

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

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.
  • While viewing any large marine animals, follow 10 viewing tips (designed for dolphins, but suitable for other large marine species too). 

Emergency Contacts

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 941-988-0212. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

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 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.

A sea turtle was found trapped under a chair Thursday, June 12 on Longboat Key and was freed by specially trained volunteers with Longboat Key Turtle Watch, a subgroup of volunteers in Mote Marine Lab's Sea Turtle Patrol. (photo credit: Mike Herron)