Proceed with caution: It’s sea turtle nesting season

By Patricia Stephens, Owner, FloridaPets.net

"For the next few  months, humans and their dogs must be extra careful when walking or playing on Florida's beaches." - Patricia Stephens

Something very magical happens on many beaches in Florida from May 1 through October 31. Sea turtles get the nurseries ready for babies-to-be. It's during this time that adult female turtles climb out of the ocean at night and dig their nest into a dry sandy area on a quiet and dark part of the beach. They lay their eggs, about three or four at a time, into anywhere from three to seven nests. Once the nests are full - about 100 eggs per nest - they shovel the sand back on top with their fins before heading back into the surf.

About 60 days later, the hatchlings emerge from the nests at night as a group and hurry down the sand and into the waves. Mom is long gone and they will never meet her; they are totally on their own. It is important that their environment remains as dark as possible until they get into the water. This is because sea turtles are “phototactic,” meaning that they are attracted to light and if the darkness is compromised by light from the shore the little ones can get confused and head away from the ocean, or get separated from the group and become easier targets for predators.

This is why coastal cities put into place regulations specific to sea turtle nesting season. They involve limitations on hours for beach driving (if allowed in the first place) and minimizing the brightness of interior and exterior lighting from businesses and residences along the coast.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the most common species of sea turtle found along the 663 miles of Florida beaches is the leatherback, pictured here. Loggerheads, green turtles, hawksbills and Kemp's ridleys also visit our shores. Officials said loggerheads are one of the larger sea turtles, weighing an average of 275 pounds with a shell that's about three feet long.

It's environmentally necessary to allow sea turtles to do what they do. According to Sea Turtle Conservancy, sea turtles graze on seagrass which helps those beds provide healthy environments for breeding of many species of fish and crustaceans, like crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. Take them away and many different species of sea life will be gone as well.

Sea turtles also play a part in helping to lessen coastal erosion. They do this because some of the eggs never hatch, and not all hatchlings make it out of the nest. While that seems sad, it's nature's way of providing nutrients to the sand so that vegetation can grow on the dunes which in return helps decrease coastal erosion.

It is for these reasons, and many others, that it's legally required to allow sea turtle to do what they do. According to Florida Statues, 379.2431, Section 1, Protection of Marine Turtles, any involvement in disturbing a sea turtle, a sea turtle nest or taking of eggs, hatchlings, or other, can net a person up to a third-degree felony charge and up to five years in prison.

We take great pains - and great pride - here in the Sunshine State to help these beautiful creatures from the ocean bring life into the world and keep our own lives healthy as well.

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