Leave No Trace Behind to Help Sea Turtles Thrive on Pensacola Beach
By Katie King
It’s sea turtle nesting season again on Pensacola Beach, and if you’ve been lucky enough to witness firsthand the magic of watching a mother sea turtle laying her eggs in the sand, or the thrill of experiencing a nest hatching, you understand just how rare and precious this phenomenon is and why we need to do our very best to preserve it.
Every spring, mother sea turtles return to Pensacola Beach at night to lay their eggs. Beginning in May and lasting through August, Loggerhead, Green, Kemp’s Ridley, and, on rare occasions, Leatherback sea turtles, choose Pensacola Beach for nesting. They return to the same beaches where they were born to lay their eggs.
About 45 to 60 days after a mother sea turtle hauls her heavy body onto our shore under the cloak of night, digs a hole in the sand with her flippers, and laysher eggs – her babies are ready to hatch. Hatchling season runs through the end of October on Pensacola Beach, with the height of hatching usually in August.
Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as endangered, and some, like the Kemp’s Ridley, are critically endangered. Baby sea turtles face many obstacles when first leaving their nests — such as raccoons, crabs, birds and fish. Sea turtle hatchlings also use the light of the moon to guide themselves to the water, but can get distracted by bright lights from beach homes, condos and businesses facing the beach.
Only 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
That’s why it’s so important to always be respectful and considerate of nesting sea turtles and hatchlings to ensure that future generations get to enjoy them too.
Here are some helpful tips on how to be good sea turtle stewards, with as little interference as possible.
GO DARK – When walking the beach at night during turtle season, remember to use a red flashlight. Sea turtles and hatchlings are less likely to be attracted and disoriented by red lighting.
TURTLE ETIQUETTE – Never touch or harass a nesting sea turtle or baby hatchlings as they leave their nest. Watch quietly from a distance and never shine lights or use flash photography, which could disorient them.
FILL IT IN and KNOCK IT DOWN – Fill in large holes, knock down sandcastles and other obstacles when leaving the beach to leave the beach flat for nesting sea turtles.
LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND – Remove all tents, canopies, furniture, toys and other obstacles from the beach every night.
If you see a sea turtle or hatchling that is sick, injured, in distress or deceased, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 24-hour hotline at 888-404-3922.
These simple measures will help this endangered species succeed, so we can continue to enjoy seeing them swim in our waters and on our shore generations to come.