Sea turtle nesting season starts is underway, and Pinellas County is reminding beach residents and visitors to keep conditions safe for sea turtles to thrive.
Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle to nest in Pinellas County, and females generally nest from early May through August. The eggs in each nest will typically incubate for 50 to 60 days before hatching.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium monitors the beaches from Clearwater Beach through Indian Shores. Sand to Sea Inc. monitors the beaches from Redington Shores through Treasure Island, and Sea Turtle Trackers monitors the beaches of St Pete Beach, Shell Key and Outback Key. Staff members conduct early-morning patrols to locate new nesting sites. Citizens should not pick up hatchlings heading toward the water, shine lights or use photo equipment with a flash. Hatchlings use starlight and moonlight reflecting off the water to find their way to the ocean, and if they become misled by artificial light, they can become disoriented and die.
Besides checking the beaches every morning for signs of new nests, nesting staff mark the nests and rope them off to avoid human disturbance. As endangered and threatened species, Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead turtles are protected under state and federal law, and disturbing their nests is illegal. To report the disturbance of a sea turtle nest, or report the sightings of turtles or hatchlings lost, stranded or wandering in the street, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement at 1-888-404-3922, or *FWC from a cell phone.
Most of Pinellas County’s beach communities have ordinances prohibiting lighting that casts glare onto the beach during turtle nesting season, which ends on Oct. 31.
During nesting season, residents and beach visitors should do the following:
- Turn off outside lights, draw drapes and avoid using flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
- Remove obstacles such as sand castles or sand pits that may make it too difficult for hatchlings to make their way to the shoreline.
- Keep the beach clean. Eliminate trash items that may entangle baby hatchlings and adult turtles.
- Do not approach or harass adult turtles as they make their way back to sea.
- If residents spot turtle tracks or a possible nest, and it does not appear to be protected by stakes or ribbon, call 1-888-404-3922.
By obeying the law and following some simple guidelines, residents and visitors can greatly improve the chances of sea turtle survival.