What time is it? Time to keep the beach clean, flat, and dark
By Katherine De Angelis
That’s right folks, sea turtle nesting season has begun in beautiful Brevard County and all along the Space Coast of Florida. From mid-May through the end of October, many species of sea turtles, particularly greens and loggerheads, nest along the Florida coastline. This results in hundreds of new hatchlings who will eventually become a part of the marine life here in Florida and worldwide.
So What Is Nesting Season?
Sea turtle nesting season occurs from mid-May through the end of October. Female sea turtles make their way up beaches, find a prime spot, and lay their eggs. Approximately 90 percent of sea turtle nesting in the United States occurs along Florida beaches, and our area is the top nesting location for loggerhead sea turtles worldwide. Florida residents play a crucial role in not only the safety of nesting female turtles, but in helping protect the nests and the hatchlings.
Are There Any Laws in Brevard County About Turtles?
Yes, there are. In fact, 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. It also bans the use of any lights that are not turtle friendly including flashlights, cameras or recorders with a flash feature, floodlights, beach lights, or any other artificial lighting. No matter how tempting it may be to take a selfie with a baby sea turtle or a nesting mother, the touching and disturbing of any nests, hatchlings, or sea turtles is also illegal under Florida state law and the Endangered Species Act.
You may be asking yourself, “why are lights not allowed during nesting season?” When sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests, they use the moon to lead them to the ocean. If they see the beach lights inland, they could confuse that light with the moonlight which would cause them to get lost and potentially die. Residents must be mindful of the safety of their marine friends to help ensure their chance at a safe journey to the water.
How Can You Help?
Beachgoers and residents alike can do a variety of things to help make sure that our beautiful marine friends have a safe journey to and from the ocean during this important season:
- Turn off beach lights or use turtle friendly lights at night. Ensuring that the turtles have the potential for a safe journey to and from the ocean is one of the biggest contributions residents can make to help the turtles. Eliminating light pollution and the confusing similarity of house lights allows the turtles to recognize the water and helps them to go undisturbed.
- Put away beach chairs, umbrellas, and any other obstacles to help avoid the potential risk of turtles getting stuck when venturing inland or to the water after nesting. Larger turtles can easily get stuck underneath beach chairs or in the slits, and they become trapped. If you see a section marked for a potential nest, keep beach furniture far away from it.
- Pick up trash. Waste such as plastic bags and food containers can end up in the water and be ingested by sea turtles. Trash also can become an obstacle for nesting mothers as well as hatchlings. Leftover food debris can attract unwanted scavengers, including raccoons, dogs, birds, and coyotes who may find the nests and eat the eggs. Help avoid this by properly disposing of food waste, plastic, and any other trash you bring to the beach.
- Stay away, and avoid contact with, nesting turtles, nests, or hatchlings. It is illegal to touch sea turtles or hatchlings on the beach. It may seem like a nice idea to help a hatchling make its way to the water, but in the end it is best to leave nature on its own. Turtles imprint on the beach that they hatch on and, if female, return there as an adult to lay their own eggs. Picking them up could interfere with this natural process. It is best to simply admire their beauty from afar.
- Fill in sand holes and knock down sandcastles. Sandcastles and holes dug in the sand can pose a threat to nesting turtles and hatchlings. Not only can hatchlings fall into the holes, but they can get blocked by large sand castles.
- Know the local number for sea turtle stranding and assistance. This is the easiest way to be prepared in case you ever come into contact with a sick, injured, or stranded sea turtle. The hotline can also be a tool to report the harassment or disturbance of sea turtles and their nests. 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.
- Get involved. Residents and beachgoers can participate in local beach cleanups and walks to help provide a safe and clean environment for nesting turtles and hatchlings. Check our STPS website for dates and locations of our monthly beach cleanups.
Artificial Lighting and Sea Turtle Hatchling Behavior. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://myfwc.com/research/wildlife/sea-turtles/threats/artificial-lighting/
Sea Turtle Nesting Season on Florida’s Space Coast. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.visitspacecoast.com/sea-turtle-nesting/
Tips for Sea Turtle Nesting Season May – October. (2018, May 1). Retrieved from https://conserveturtles.org/nesting-season-is-may-october/
Waymer, J. (2018, May 01). Sea turtle nesting season means lights out on the beach. Retrieved from https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2018/05/01/sea-turtle-nesting-season-means-lights-out-beach/568529002/