Florida is the place where more sea turtles nest than anywhere else in the U.S. Our beaches provide nesting habitat for loggerhead, green and also, less often, leatherback and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. All sea turtles are protected by both Florida and federal laws. It is illegal to touch or disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests.
The sea turtle crawls from the Gulf late at night and lays 75 to 150 eggs, buries them and then returns to the sea. About 50 to 60 days later hatchlings scramble from the nest and instinctively head toward the water. They then begin their journey to the Atlantic Ocean by crawling into mats of drifting algae called sargassum. They spend the first several years of their lives on these rafts. After a few years they move inshore to feeding grounds. At the age of 12-30, female adult loggerhead sea turtles return to the beach of their birth to lay their own nests. Only one in a thousand hatchlings survives to adulthood.
Sea turtle nesting season in Florida lasts through October. While the season is not over yet the Mote Marine Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has already recorded a 38-year-record number of nest in the Sarasota area. The program monitors sea turtle nesting on the 35-mile stretch of beaches from Longboat Key through Venice.
Mote has documented a total of 5,063 nests across all sea turtle species as of August 4th. They consist of 4,888 loggerhead nests, 170 green turtle nests and five other nests. As female sea turtles nest every two to three years, many of them are expected to be returners from 2016, the previous total nest record, which had a total count of 4, 588 nests. For the first time in the program’s history, there are at least two green sea turtle nests on every region in Mote’s monitoring area.
Remember to 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.