All You Need to Know About Sea Turtle Nesting Season!
Sea turtle nesting season extends from May 1st through Oct. 31st. Beginning April 1st, Clearwater Marine Aquarium patrols a 26 mile stretch of beach throughout Pinellas County. Our morning patrols reach the beach just before sunrise 7 days a week. Initially, our teams of nearly 175 volunteers, staff and interns search along the high tide line for evidence of sea turtle nesting activity namely, marks in the sand left by crawling females. Once tracks are located, we determine whether there is a nest present or if it was a non-nesting emergence, AKA false crawl. We mark the nests and collect data from each site such as distance from high tide line, distance from beach vegetation, GPS coordinates and other measurements used to help locate the egg chamber.
As incubation times range between 50 and 60 days, we begin to look for hatching activity 45 days after our first nest discovery. Hatching activity is identified by tracks emerging from the nest sites. We also extend our beach patrol coverage throughout the night to monitor nests and release hatchling as soon as they emerge. Due to the dense population of Pinellas County, we have significant issues with artificial lighting causing hatchling disorientation events. To help hatchlings in areas with problem lighting, we use restraining cages to keep the hatchlings from wandering off in the wrong direction. After a nest has hatched we wait at least 72 hours then excavate the nest and do an inventory of its contents to determine hatching success.
Generally we find our first nest of the season in early to mid May and the females will continue nesting until the middle of August. Primarily, we encounter loggerheads nesting on our beaches but on rare occasions have encountered Kemp’s ridleys or green sea turtles.
We report our annual nesting data to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Pinellas County. To FWC, we report to false crawls, disorientation events, obstruction events, predation and vandalism. To the county, we also include weekly escarpment surveys, lighting surveys and weather data.
- Loggerhead sea turtles were the only species to emerge onto the beaches we patrol this season.
- There were a total of 201 nests.
- We successfully released 6,034 hatchlings.
- 75 nests were negatively affected by severe storm events that lasted 3 weeks from late July-early August.
- 5 nests were moved because eggs within the nests were washing out to sea. We moved all eggs we were able to save.
- 3 of those 5 nests hatched (which is pretty incredible, because these moved eggs do not normally hatch)!
- 16 hatchlings were released at the Sargassum weed line, 94 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico after rehabilitation at CMA.
How You Can Help:
Turn Lights Out
Turn out unnecessary beach lights to help prevent disorientation of female sea turtles and hatchlings. Close your curtains and be mindful of bright lights shining on the beach. Keep it dark!
Knock down sand castles and fill in sand pits. This helps to eliminate the challenges the baby hatchlings must cross on their way to the shoreline. Sand pits can be like the Grand Canyon and sand castles like Mount Everest to tiny baby sea turtles. Clear the way!
Keep the Beach Clean
Picking up trash eliminates items that both hatchlings and adults may become entangled in. Something as small as a bottle top or as large as unwanted beach furniture can pose potential problems, leading to both false crawls and disorientation. Keep it clean!
You can always help by providing donations of any items listed on the Sea Turtle Nesting Wish List!