Sea turtle nesting history in Miami and understanding the process
Every year May 1st to October 31st Miami-Dade County beaches are graced with the presence of the magnificent dinosaurs of the sea! For millions of years’ sea turtles have used Florida’s coastlines and beaches to create new generations of sea turtles. There are seven species of sea turtles worldwide, all of which are either threatened or endangered. Out of the seven species, three nest regularly in Florida: Loggerhead sea turtles, Green sea turtles, and Leatherback sea turtles.
The Loggerhead sea turtle is the smallest of our three nesting turtles and Florida supports the highest number of Loggerhead nests worldwide! The Green Sea Turtle has sporadic nesting seasons and they will typically nest every 2 to 3 years. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in Green sea turtle numbers and the predictions show 2017 will be a successful year for them. The final nesting turtle of Miami, the largest sea turtle in the world, is the Leatherback sea turtle! They only lay a few nests a season in Miami, but it is a real treat to have these giants nest on our beaches!
Understanding the Nesting Sea Turtle
The life cycle of a sea turtle is a mysterious thing and scientists are still searching for all the answers. What we do know is that turtles are animals based on instinct! Approximately every 2 years adult sea turtles will use magnetic fields and currents to find their way back to the area in which they were born to mate. The females will crawl up the beach and strategically dig a chamber, in which to lay her eggs, and then she takes the time to disguise her nest from potential predators. After she lays her clutch of eggs, up to 120, the turtle makes her way back into the ocean. Each nesting female can lay up to 5 nests a season, but she will never return to check on her previously laid nests.
Approximately 2 months after the nest is laid, the hatchlings emerge from the sand. Using the light of the moon and the sound of the ocean, in large numbers, they make their way to the ocean. For the next few decades those young turtles will spend their days hunting, growing, and hiding until they are large enough and old enough to reproduce. It can take up to 30 years for a sea turtle to become reproductive and when this time comes they make their way back to the beaches where they first emerged, many moons ago, to begin a whole new generation of sea turtles.
The dangers of being a sea turtle and why they need protection
Sea turtles face a number of obstacles throughout their lives! As hatchlings they fall prey to a variety of natural predators, light pollution and poaching. For several years after hatching they spend their days hiding in sea grass beds, eating and getting bigger. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtles make it to adulthood! If a turtle does survive long enough to reach maturity, they have fewer natural predators, but they are more susceptible to human influenced threats. Some of these threats include but are not limited to poor commercial fishing practices, coastal development, pollution, and poaching.
Sea turtle conservation is a fairly new practice, only dating back to the 1950’s. With heavy exploitation and human influenced threats, conservation and protection has never been more important! Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Conservation Program is only one of the programs around the world that work 7 days a week, during nesting season, providing protection to the sea turtles and their nests. Although these organizations do all they can to help these at-risk animals, they are asking for our help!
Ways to help nesting sea turtles
- Turn off your lights: If you live along, or are visiting the coastline, turn out your lights at night and close your blinds! Sea turtles are used to following the light of the moon to find the ocean and your lights can confuse them and cause them to disorient. If a turtle wanders too far on land they can become exhausted and there can be fatal outcomes.
- Refrain from walking the beaches at night: Although big, sea turtles are skittish animals. The sight of a human can cause them to leave the beach without laying their eggs. If you are walking the beach at night, refrain from using a light source to avoid scaring them off. In the instance, you do come across a nesting sea turtle, do not approach it and take pictures. Watch it from a distance, stay quiet, and take mental images. One encounter with you could mean 120 less hatchlings coming into the world!
- Leave the beach unmarked: Clean up after yourself when leaving the beach. Remove umbrellas, beach chairs, and any other furniture from the beach at night. These large objects can interfere with nesting or cause the turtle to get stuck. Also, pick up all your trash! Sea turtles don’t have hands, so they explore with their mouths. Whatever you leave on the beach can end up in their digestive tracks.
- Fill in your holes: Building sand castles and burying people in the sand make for a fun day at the beach, but it can be hazardous to a nesting sea turtle. When you are leaving the beach please knock down your sand castles and fill in your holes!
- Leave it be: Never disturb a nest or interfere with the hatchlings! The nests are marked, secured and monitored so data can be collected throughout the season! Also, although tiny, the hatchlings are stronger than they appear! Never interfere with baby sea turtles crawling to the ocean! The crawl in an important step in helping them strengthen their flippers and orienting themselves so they can find their way back to that exact beach as an adult!
- Reduce, reuse, and recycle: Throw your garbage away and make sure to throw it into the proper reciprocals. Limit the amount of waste that makes it into our oceans! The best way to become environmentally friendly, even sea turtle friendly, is to use reusable water bottles and bags. Plastic can mimic a sea turtles’ favorite food item, a jellyfish. So, if we lessen the use of plastic water bottles and plastic bags we can lessen the confusion. Balloons are also extremely hazardous to sea turtles! Please never, ever release balloons into the air, because what goes up, must always come down!
- Spread the word: The greatest key towards sea turtle survival and success is spreading awareness! Be a leader and do all you can to help these mysterious creatures survive for a million more years to come.