Sea turtle nesting

A leatherback hatchling makes its way to the sea.

May marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on many of Florida’s sandy beaches.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking beachfront property owners and beach visitors to help nesting turtles and hatchlings by turning off or shielding lights that are visible from the beach at night.

“Making an effort to keep our beaches dark at night is one of the most important things you can do to help sea turtles.” said Robbin Trindell, head of the FWC sea turtle management program. “Even small artificial lights from a house, a flashlight or a cellphone camera can confuse female sea turtles and their hatchlings and cause them to wander off course.”

Sea turtle nesting is starting now on beaches along the Gulf coast, including the Florida Panhandle, as well as the state’s northeast Atlantic coast and from Miami-Dade County south to the Keys. Nesting began earlier in March along Florida’s southeast Atlantic coast from Brevard County south to Broward County.

Florida is a critically important destination for nesting sea turtles. More loggerhead turtles nest here than anywhere else in the continental United States, with 91,451 loggerhead nests counted statewide during the 2018 nesting season. Leatherback and green sea turtles also nest in significant numbers in Florida.

What are the basics of being sea turtle-friendly?

• It’s a sea turtle night, turn off the light — After sundown, turn off any lights not necessary for human safety. Use long wavelength amber LED lamps for lights that must stay lit and shield lights so they are not visible from the beach. Remember to close shades or curtains.

• Sea turtles get lost in the light — On the beach at night, don’t take flash photos or use bright cellphones or flashlights.

• Sea turtles are protected and must be respected — Stay back and give sea turtles space if you see one on the beach at night. Don’t touch a nesting turtle because it may leave the beach without nesting if disturbed. Remember, it is illegal to harm or disturb nesting sea turtles, their nests, eggs or hatchlings.

• Clear the way at the end of the day — Beach furniture, canopies, boats and toys left behind on the sand can become obstacles that block nesting and hatchling turtles. Fill in any holes dug in the sand.

• Keep your distance from nests and hatchlings — Do not handle hatchlings crawling toward the water. Any interference or disturbance by people, such as getting too close or taking flash photos, increases the chances the hatchlings will get confused, go in the wrong direction and not reach the ocean quickly. That makes them vulnerable to dehydration, exhaustion and predators. As with all wildlife, watching from a distance is best.

Buildings and other structures along the beach that need lights for human safety can be lit with long wavelength amber LED bulbs in a downward-directed, well-shielded fixture that is not visible from the beach. The FWC tests lights submitted by manufacturers to see if they meet its “keep it long (wavelength), keep it low (lumens and mounting height) and keep it shielded” requirement. Approved fixtures are less likely to impact nesting or hatchling sea turtles. The agency maintains a list of these certified wildlife-friendly fixtures so property owners along Florida’s coastlines can easily find options that work for human and sea turtle safety. The list is available at MyFWC.com/Conservation by clicking on “How You Can Conserve,” “Wildlife Lighting” and then “Certified.”

The FWC works to conserve Florida sea turtles, including coordinating nesting beach survey programs around the state. People can help by reporting sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

Learn more about Florida’s sea turtles at MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium offers additional information about sea turtle nesting season, which runs May 1 through Oct. 31.

According to the CMA, newly hatched turtles find their way to the sea by following the natural light reflected by the water. Young turtles have a small amount of energy that must take them to the water. Under natural conditions, they go to the brightest spot on the nighttime beach. If they disorient and head the wrong way, they may starve to death before landing in the floating sargassum weeds that are their food source.

Clearwater city ordinances determine specific lighting requirements for beach parking lots, streets and promenades to protect sea turtles.

In May 2018, Clearwater approved a voluntary resolution that promotes the long-term goal of reducing the harms of plastic pollution and single-use plastics. The city also partners with Ocean Allies, a grassroots environmental cause to help protect the environment.

Residents are encouraged to choose reusable or paper-based items when playing at the beach, and properly dispose of all garbage to help protect sea turtles and other marine life.

Following are some additional tips from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to help protect sea turtle nests:

• Flatten sand castles and fill in holes.

• Bring reusable bags, straws and containers to prevent plastic waste from entering the Gulf of Mexico.

• Pick up and properly dispose of litter on the beach.

• Take all personal belongings from the beach at the end of the day, so no obstacles exist on the young turtles’ way to the water.

• Stay off the dunes and use the designated walkovers for crossing.

• Shield any artificial lighting that might shine toward the beach.

The Tampa Bay area averages about 120 nests each season, and each nest can contain an average of about 100 eggs.

If you are lucky enough to find a turtle nest on the beach, don’t disturb it. If the nest is unmarked, notify the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at 727-441-1790.