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May 1 is the official start of the sea turtle nesting season

From now through the end of October, three different species of sea turtle will land on Florida’s Gulf coast beaches to lay their eggs.

People can help sea turtles that nest on Florida’s beaches at night by leaving the beach as natural as possible. To do this, beachgoers should remove beach furniture and other obstacles before sunset each day.

“Anyone spending time on Florida’s beaches can do something to help save Florida’s threatened and endangered sea turtles. People’s actions on the beach can have a positive impact on whether our loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles nest successfully,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who leads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) sea turtle management program.

“Whether you are a resident or a visitor, remember to take beach furniture, boats and canopies off Florida’s sandy beaches at night so these items won’t block sea turtles attempting to nest,” Trindell said. “When departing at the end of the day, beach visitors should fill any holes dug in the sand so nesting and hatchling turtles don’t become trapped. Please be careful not to disturb nesting sea turtles by getting too close, shining lights on them or taking flash photos.”

Sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct. 31 on all Southwest Florida beaches.

In mid-April, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists and volunteers began their 37th year coordinating sea turtle conservation along 35 miles of Sarasota County beaches.

In 2016, Mote Marine counted a record 4,588 nests along beaches from Longboat Key to Venice and a near record 4,503 in 2017.

In the past 36 years, Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program has documented 91,801 sea turtle crawls (tracks) and protected an estimated 2.4 million local hatchlings.

Using ID tags, Mote has identified 5,873 individual nesting females during more than 10,000 encounters, and has even fitted some sea turtles with satellite transmitter tags to track their migrations through the ocean.

During sea turtle nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, please heed the following turtle-friendly tips. Starting early is great too; sometimes the first local sea turtle nests arrive in April.

  • DO stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones bounded by ropes.
  • DO remain quiet and observe from a distance if you encounter a nesting sea turtle or hatchlings.
  • DO shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
  • DO close drapes after dark and stack beach furniture at the dune line or, ideally, remove it from the beach.
  • DO fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
  • DON’T approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles.
  • DON’T use flashlights, head lamps or fishing lamps on the beach.
  • DON’T encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
  • DON’T use fireworks on the beach.
  • DON’T walk dogs on any Sarasota County beach other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice. There, dogs must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.

Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty. If you witness anyone disturbing a turtle or find an injured or disoriented hatchling or adult, please notify agents with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), the local sheriff’s department, and/or Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program at 941-388-4331. If you find a dead or injured sea turtle, contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212.