Temperatures are on the rise, sleeves are getting shorter and spirits are soaring — spring is in full swing! That means it’s almost time for sea turtle nesting season in the Daytona Beach area. Every year from mid-May through October, about 100,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles emerge from the ocean for one night to lay their eggs. If you’re one of the thousands of people who want to see this amazing natural event, be sure you know how to do it right.
Florida is home to five species of sea turtles — loggerhead, green, leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and hawksbill. The leatherback is the largest, measuring 6–9 feet long and weighing more than 1,000 pounds when full-grown. The others are mostly between 2–4 feet long and range from 100–500 pounds. Kemp’s ridley is the smallest, measuring about 30 inches and weighing 80–100 pounds. Although they range in shape and size, the way these turtles nest is very similar.
A typical nesting turtle will emerge from the surf at night. Graceful in the water but awkward on land, a mother turtle will drag herself up the beach to find a nesting spot above the high tide line. Using her hind flippers, she digs a hole a foot or two deep and then lays 50 to 350 eggs, which are about the size of table tennis balls and soft-shelled, not hard like bird eggs. She refills the nest with sand, smooths out the surface and even adds vegetation for camouflage, then returns to the ocean.
All that magnificent, hard work takes about 30 to 60 minutes, and a female turtle might nest one to eight times in a single season. After two months, the eggs hatch. Dozens of tiny turtles climb up through the sand, usually at night, then scramble to reach the water. To safely reach the water, the small creatures must evade preying birds, prying hands and confusing light pollution.
To help ensure the turtles have the best chance at survival, a number of rules and regulations are in place. All sea turtle species are either endangered or threatened, and all are protected by Florida law. In the Daytona Beach area, beach driving and parking are prohibited to the west of an established dune conservation zone, and beachfront lighting is limited at night. Bright lights can be deadly to the tiny hatchlings, making them go the wrong way toward Highway A1A instead of the water.
If you join a night-time sea turtle walk, your guides will give you instructions on how to watch these magnificent, ancient creatures without endangering them. But you might stumble on a sea turtle mama laying her eggs during an evening beach walk, and some sea turtles even nest during the day.
If you come across a nesting sea turtle, here’s what you need to know to keep mother and babies — and yourself — safe.
- Never disturb a turtle crawling to or from the ocean or laying eggs. If nesting is disrupted, the turtle may not lay her eggs at all or may not finish camouflaging her nest.
- Stay at least 30 feet away from any turtle you see. If you find yourself closer, don’t touch! Sea turtles can bite, and they have extremely powerful jaws.
- Don’t shine lights on the beach at night or take flash photography. This can frighten away nesting females and make it harder for hatchlings to find the sea.
- Don’t walk or cycle in places marked as nesting areas.
- Report any injured or dead sea turtles to a Volusia County Beach Services employee.
- Do not disturb any nests you might find with markers or protective screening.
- Stay away from the beach dunes.
- Keep the beach clean. Don’t drop any litter, and help out by picking up after others if you see trash. To a sea turtle, balloons and plastic bags look like jellyfish — their favorite food — but eating them could be deadly. Fishing lines and kite string can become tangled in a turtle’s flippers, making swimming difficult.
And, on April 28, you can enjoy close encounters with endangered sea turtles and other marine life at the annual Turtle Day at the Marine Science Center. Be sure to mark your calendars!
Whether you witness sea turtles digging their nests or let someone bury you in the sand (below the head only!), Daytona Beach is the place to be — plan your trip today!