July 25, 2016

Protect Our Sea Turtles – Watch Them Hatch & Learn How You Can Help!

Baby sea turtle heads to the Gulf
Baby sea turtle heads to the Gulf
Baby sea turtle heads to the Gulf

Protect Our Sea Turtles – Watch Them Hatch & Learn How You Can Help!

Every spring, the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles begin nesting on the Florida gulf coast.  The season typically begins in May, and eggs take about 60 days to hatch. We’ve already starting to see the hatching and turtle migrations in Panama City Beach!  These migrations may continue until the end of October.

Because these turtles are endangered, their nests and eggs are protected.  Turtle watch groups (usually volunteers) check the beach each morning for signs of turtles that have laid eggs.  They’re large animals and leave very distinctive tracks.  Nests are blocked off and labeled to protect the developing eggs.  But not all nests are found prior to hatching, so you never know if one might be nearby!  We currently have about 40 Loggerhead nests registered for 2016.  Some have already hatched, but most are getting close!

When it’s time for the eggs to hatch, the baby turtles all emerge together and must reach the water to survive.  Many things can endanger their ability to do that.  Here are a few ways that YOU can help the baby sea turtles:

  • Leave No Trace:  Leave no garbage, paper, toys, or anything that can be removed on the beach.  Any item may be an obstacle for the baby turtle to get around.  Clear plastic can be especially dangerous since turtles eat jellyfish, so they might mistake the plastic for food.
  • Level the Sand:  Fill up holes in the sand, and level any sandcastles made during the day.  Again, these become difficult obstacles for the turtles to navigate when they need to reach the water quickly.  When you think about it, those holes are also not safe for anyone walking on the beach in the evening either!
  • Lights Out:  Turtles typically navigate in the evening, following the reflective light on the water to get to safety.  They need to move quickly because they provide tasty food for predators if they take too long.  Brighter lights disorient and disturb them, so NO flashlights or flash photography.  In fact, this is why we have regulations permitting only the low watt yellow lights on the beach side of the buildings.  Our balconies and pool areas have special turtle bulbs that will not disorient the babies when they are looking for the water.  If you are a guest in a condo, do NOT change the balcony bulb so that you can see better outside.  You may end up with a hefty fine if you do!
  • Do Not Touch:  Do not pick up the babies to take them to the water.  Do not touch them at all.  The turtles must build their strength on the trek to the beach so that they can survive in the water when they reach it.  This is part of their “growing up” so don’t take that away from them.

Here is a great video of the hatching and migration of one nest.  The sand moves for about 8 minutes in the video before the real excitement begins.  You can see once they emerge, how quickly they move and it’s over!

Video Credit:  Chris Ove

Photo Credit: Hannah Trowbridge

For more information about the current nests in Panama City Beach, check out the website: http://www.turtlewatch.org/

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