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Local News

Turtle Nesting Season Begins Downstate, Later in the Panhandle

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Photo via Flickr// Robert S Donovan
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https://flic.kr/p/9ZWVLK

Although they’ve been around for about 110 million years, sea turtles are now facing a new, 21st century hazard: flash photos from cell phones.

March 1 is the official start of sea turtle nesting and hatching season downstate. It’s May 1 in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions.

“Sea turtles are pretty skittish, when they’re deciding whether to come up onto the beach to nest or whether to stay on the beach and nest,” says Robbin Trindell, who’s in charge of the FWC’s Sea Turtle Management Program. “If they see movement or a lot of lights, they will turn around and leave without putting that nest in the sand.”

The STMP sends out marine turtle permit holders, who are authorized to go to the beaches in the morning, and look for signs a turtle had come up to nest overnight.

Trindell says they hypothesize that flash photography from cellphones could be intimidating the turtles and hindering their efforts to nest and lay their eggs. The excessive lighting falls into a number of things not done around sea turtle areas.

“Both the adults and the hatchlings use their eyes to figure out where the ocean is,” Trindell says. “If there are lights on the land side of the beach they get confused and head the wrong way.”

That can result in both adult turtles and hatchlings being hit by vehicles, and the hatchlings getting stuck in the sand and unable to move. If you must have light, use a red LED flashlight, adjust cell phone screens to dark mode, and don’t take flash photos.

Another rule when encountering the nests: keep your hands off, and keep your distance as much as possible.

“Sea turtles are listed at threatened and endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and state law,” says Trindell. “It is illegal to harm, harass, touch them or disturb them in any way.”

Also vital to sea turtles’ survival and reproduction is a clear beach: that furniture and other items are removed before sunset, at not to hinder their movements.

From now through the end of October, three different species of sea turtles, the loggerhead, the green, and the leatherback, will land on Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches to lay their eggs.

“In the Panhandle most of the turtles that are nesting are loggerheads. But you also get green sea turtles which are endangered, and you’ll also get sometimes an endangered Kemps-Ridley – which is the most rare of the sea turtle species,” said Trindell.

In 2015, a record number of green turtle nests were documented in Florida: almost 28,000 on the 26 beaches that Fish and Wildlife has monitored since 1989.

To report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. You can learn about Florida’s five sea turtle species – those mentioned earlier along with the hawksbill -- at www.MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.