Sea turtle nesting season is here. Officially, the season begins March 1 for the Atlantic coast of Florida, so these endangered species once again will be on Brevard County beaches.
Florida hosts 90 percent of the sea turtle nests laid in the United States each season, and Brevard County’s 72 miles of beaches are part of the largest nesting aggregation site of loggerhead sea turtles in the world. Three of the world’s seven species of sea turtles nest regularly on our beaches.
The immense leatherback sea turtles typically are the first to arrive and begin nesting in March. The loggerhead sea turtles join the nesting activity a few weeks later, typically in mid-April. The green sea turtles are the last to the party and tend to arrive to nest in late May to early June.
STPS volunteers begin monitoring the beach for nesting activity in mid-April and will continue through the fall.
Sea turtle nests incubate for roughly 50-60 days before hatchlings emerge from the sand and head toward the ocean.
Brevard County residents and visitors alike can help make this year’s nesting season a success by learning to share the beach with sea turtles.
Sharing the beach with sea turtles
Residents and visitors can help to make our area as turtle friendly as possible by remembering to keep beaches clean, flat, and dark from May 1 through Oct. 31. County ordinances prohibit visible lights of any type, including cellphones and flashlights, at night during this time. It is also important to remove beach chairs and other obstacles each night as well as to knock down sandcastles and fill in any holes that may block or trap sea turtles. Please remember sea turtles are a protected species and may not be disturbed or harassed.
Do not disturb sea turtles
Never approach or touch a nesting sea turtle. Keep lights off, stay back, and be quiet. If she is disturbed, she may return to the ocean without laying eggs, or may leave before covering her nest completely.
Hands off hatchlings
Allow hatchlings to crawl on their own to the ocean. Turtles imprint on the beach that they hatch on and picking them up could interfere with this natural process. Do not remove hatchlings or eggs from a nest.
Lights out for sea turtles
Brevard County has a Lights Out ordinance effective May 1 – October 31 that requires all lights visible from the beach to be either covered, blocked, moved, or turned off from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. This includes flashlights, cellphones, and red lights. Although sea turtles are less affected by red light, they do still see it.
Pick up beach chairs and umbrellas
Put away beach chairs, umbrellas, and any other obstacles to help avoid the potential risk of turtles getting stuck while on the beach. Larger turtles can easily get stuck underneath beach chairs or in the slats and become trapped.
Fill in holes
Before leaving the beach, fill in any holes. These pose a threat to both humans and sea turtles who may fall into them. Adult sea turtles as well as hatchlings can become trapped in a deep hole.
Knock down sandcastles
Sandcastles can keep hatchlings from reaching the ocean, and adults may expend extra energy going around these obstacles.
Leave only footprints
Properly dispose of all trash so that it doesn’t end up in the water. Debris on the beach can be an obstacle for nesting mothers as well as hatchlings.
Stay off the dunes and vegetation
Use only designated crossovers to access the beach. Staying off the dunes will protect the vegetation as well as shorebird nests and sea turtle nests.
Beach bonfires are not allowed during nesting season. A fire poses a serious risk to both incubating nests and hatchlings. The heat from a fire built on top of an incubating nest would destroy it, and hatchlings emerging and traveling toward the brightest light might be drawn to the fire. In addition, the bright light of a fire and people nearby may scare off nesting adult turtles.
Call for help
Know the local number for sea turtle emergencies. In Brevard County, call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society’s emergency response line at 321-206-0646. You can also call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 888-404-3922 or on a mobile phone at *FWC or #FWC, depending on the provider.