BELLEAIR BEACH – Walking out to the beach one recent morning, Belleair Beach visitor David Russell witnessed a rare event.
He saw a sea turtle laying her eggs in the beach vegetation and thought it was highly unusual for a sea turtle to be nesting in daylight.
He was right. Julia Anderson, community relations coordinator of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said it is rare for a turtle such as this one, a loggerhead, to lay her eggs in the daytime. But Anderson also said that behavior “does not necessarily raise any concerns,” although the loggerhead turtles are nearly always active, in egg-laying and the hatching of the young, during the night.
Anderson said no one should approach a sea turtle nesting or laying eggs, as this may disrupt the nesting behavior. That is extremely important, she said.
Anderson gave some tips for helping the turtles during the critical nesting season, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.
Beachgoers can help nesting turtles and hatchlings by filling in holes, knocking down sand castles, and removing all their items at the end of the beach day. Otherwise, adult turtles and hatchlings can become trapped on the beach or slowed down on their way to the water by these obstacles, Anderson said.
Beach property owners should switch to turtle-friendly lights (amber and red LED lights, approved by the Florida Wildlife Commission). This will prevent the turtles from becoming disoriented. Anderson said, “Turtles use brightness as a cue to find the water, and bright artificial lights from homes, hotels and condos can confuse them. They can wander aimlessly, become lost on the beach, or worse, crawl into a busy street and be negatively impacted by vehicles.”
Beach renourishment impacts nests
The beach renourishment going on now does have a large impact on turtles nesting, Anderson said. Clearwater Marine Aquarium has staff authorized by the Florida Wildlife Commission to relocate marine turtle nests to protect them ahead of the renourishment project. This activity is strictly monitored and regulated, Anderson noted, as it is a state and federal offense to tamper with or harass sea turtles or any part of their nest.
Anderson said the current nesting season is going very well, with more than 80 nests on the Pinellas beaches being monitored so far. It remains to be seen what the impact of renourishment will be on the nesting activity.