Every year, Naples happily welcomes some unique visitors to its sunny shores: sea turtles! May marks the start of sea turtle season, meaning you’re likely to see a few nests roped off on beaches as mama turtles make their way on shore to lay their eggs. Here, we present Sea Turtle 101.
WHEN IS SEA TURTLE SEASON?
Officially, sea turtle season in Florida runs from May 1 to Oct. 31. During this time, female sea turtles emerge from the surf at night to lay their eggs in nests in dry sand before returning to the Gulf. They never meet, feed or care for their babies.
After about two months, the turtle hatchlings emerge from their shells, dig their way up through the sand, and make their to the Gulf by following the moonlight reflecting off the water. (They are born knowing how to swim!) In Naples, loggerhead sea turtles are the most common species, and though they start out tiny, they can grow up to four feet long and weigh 440 pounds.
HOW DO I IDENTIFY A SEA TURTLE NEST?
If it’s already been plotted, nests are easily spotted by their perimeter fencing or metal screen covering, which the Collier County Parks & Recreation Department places there to monitor and protect them. (You can see stats on this year’s turtle nests and locations here.) Otherwise, you may be able to spot a turtle nest by the distinctive tracks they leave in the sand.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SEE A SEA TURTLE OR A TURTLE NEST?
Keep your distance, watch from afar, and let them continue on their way. Sea turtles are protected by state and federal laws, and interfering with or touching them is a violation of those laws. Please also keep calm and quiet, as loud noises, sudden movements and lights can frighten or disorient the turtles as they attempt to nest or return to the water.
If you see an injured turtle, call the Conservancy of Southwest Florida at (239) 262-2273.
ARE SEA TURTLES ENDANGERED?
Yes. Habitat destruction, climate change, poaching and light pollution all contribute to sea turtles’ endangered status. Even without all those challenges, it’s hard out there for a baby turtle—it’s estimated that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will make it to adulthood due to their many predators on land and sea.
HOW CAN I HELP KEEP SEA TURTLES SAFE?
If you’re on the beach or staying nearby, it’s important to turn off all lights at night, since sea turtles rely on the moonlight reflecting on the water to guide them back to sea. If they see lights in nearby buildings, they may become disoriented and lose their way.
Be sure to pick up all your trash on the beach, fill in any holes you’ve dug in the sand, and do not leave coolers, chairs, umbrellas or other gear behind.
LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS HELPING SEA TURTLES:
ROOKERY BAY NATIONAL ESTUARINE RESEARCH RESERVE
Volunteer your time toward the ongoing efforts to protect local sea turtles.
CONSERVANCY OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
The Conservancy is critical in the rehabilitation of injured wildlife, including sea turtles, in Southwest Florida. Volunteers are welcome in a variety of roles.
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