More sea turtles nest on Florida's sandy beaches than on any other U.S. coastline. Biologists at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hope the 2014 nesting season that started March 1 will be as successful as others in recent years.
This month, leatherback sea turtles begin to emerge onto beaches to lay their eggs along Florida's Atlantic coast, from Broward to Brevard counties. A few months later, people in other coastal counties also may notice loggerhead and green sea turtle "crawls," the distinctive line of tracks they leave behind in the sand.
Three species of sea turtles nest in abundance on Florida beaches: leatherbacks, loggerheads and greens. Loggerheads are the most abundant, and approximately 90 percent of all nests for this species in the southeastern United States occur in Florida. Sea turtle biologists were surprised and pleased in 2013 when a record number of more than 36,000 green sea turtle nests were counted in Florida.
"The great news is that so many sea turtles nest on Florida beaches more than anywhere else in the United States," said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who is responsible for sea turtle management at the FWC. "Florida had a record number of loggerhead nests in 2012, followed by a record number of green turtle nests in 2013."
Typically, sea turtle nesting season runs from March through the end of October, but nesting continued well beyond that in 2013. Green turtles generally nest later than the other sea turtle species in Florida. FWC biologists would not be surprised if nesting season extends later into the fall again this year, and they caution beachgoers that marked nests on the beach may hatch well past the official end of nesting season in October.
"The actions that people take are critical to maintaining Florida's success with sea turtles," Trindell said. "Remove chairs, canopies, boats and other items from the beach at night, because they block the movement of turtles and hatchings. Don't forget to turn off or shield lights on the beach, to prevent hatchlings from getting confused and going toward land instead of the salt water where they belong."
In Florida, sea turtle landings on the beach are documented by volunteers, who assist the FWC's researchers. About 2,500 FWC-permitted volunteers regularly patrol more than 800 miles of sandy shoreline to identify, mark and protect sea turtle nests. They collect nesting data and also share their knowledge with beachgoers on how to help conserve sea turtles.
Support Florida's sea turtles by purchasing the "Helping Sea Turtles Survive" license tag at BuyaPlate.com. Tag funds are spent on sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal.
Learn more about sea turtles at MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.