|The beaches of southwest Florida have long been an important nesting area for
the loggerhead sea turtle. Loggerhead sea turtles emerge from the Gulf of Mexico
to nest on our beaches each summer (May 1 to August 31). Females crawl from the
Gulf late at night to lay their nests. Loggerheads deposit, on average, 100 ping
pong ball sized eggs in each nest. They usually lay 2 to 3 nests per season on
a 2-3 year cycle. The eggs begin to hatch after about 60 days. As the sand begin
to cool (usually late evening) the hatchlings scratch their way out of the nest
emerging as a group. As the young turtles exit the nest they instinctually seek
the Gulf by looking for natural light reflecting off the water.
the water, hatchlings begin their journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The first days
of their lives are spent swimming directly offshore. Once there,
the tiny loggerheads crawl into mats of drifting algae called sargassum. They
spend the first few years of their lives passively drifting on their oceanic
rafts feeding on almost anything they can catch in the sargassum. After a few
years, the juvenile loggerheads leave their protective nursery and move to
inshore feeding grounds where they spend the rest of their pre-adult lives.
Ultimately, at the age of 12 - 30, adult, female, loggerhead sea turtles return
to the beach of their birth to lay nests of their own. Very few sea turtles
survive to this point. Estimates predict that about one in a thousand hatchlings
survive to adulthood.
The Collier County Environmental Services Department (CCESD)
is an active participant in an ongoing statewide nesting sea turtle population
a permit requirement for beach renourishment, the CCESD is responsible for
the monitoring of 23.7 miles of beach. Biologists patrol the beaches each morning
looking for the tell-tale signs of sea turtle nesting. Each sea turtle emergence
is examined and determinations are made as to whether the crawl is a nest or
a false crawl (a non-nesting emergence). Each nest is marked with stakes and
warning tape and, if necessary, covered with a metal screen to protect it from
predators. After a nest has been marked, it is carefully monitored for signs
of tidal inundation, predation, and finally hatching. After hatching, the Collier
County biologists excavate the nest and determine how many hatchlings emerged
from the nest. The eggs are counted and a hatching success (the number of hatched
egg shells in relation to the total number of eggs) is calculated for each
Do hatchlings need a full moon to find the ocean after they emerge from their
This is a myth. Hatchlings emerge from their nests at all phases of the moon
and successfully find the ocean.
How do hatchlings know the direction of the ocean when they emerge from their
Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest direction.
On a natural beach, this direction is the light of the open horizon.
How long do sea turtles live?
Sea turtles can live 40 to 60 years or more.
How long does it take before the eggs hatch?
Sea turtle eggs have an incubation period of about two months.
How many nests are laid in Florida?
Along the Florida coast, sea turtles annually make between 40,000 and 84,000
How many nests does each female sea turtle lay?
Females nest every two to three years, laying several nests on sandy beaches.
After digging a hole and depositing bout 80–120 eggs, the females fill
in the hole with sand and camouflage the nest before returning to the sea.
How many species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened?
All five Florida species are listed as either endangered or threatened. The
federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill, and
ridley turtle as endangered. The loggerhead is listed as threatened. This makes
it illegal to harm, harass, or kill any sea turtles, their eggs, or hatchlings.
It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products.
How many species of sea turtles are there in Florida?
Five species of sea turtles can be found in Florida:
- Hawksbill Turtle
- Kemp’s ridley
- Loggerhead Turtle
- Leatherback Turtle
- Green Turtle
How much do sea turtles weigh?
Sea turtles range in size from the 75–100 pound Kemp’s ridley to
the 1,300 pound, 8-foot-long leatherback.
What can I do to help protect Florida’s sea turtles?
Organize or join
a beach clean up day. Check with organizations or schools in your area to
become involved in clearing the beaches of trash that could
Do not leave fishing line behind. This entangles many types of
wildlife including sea turtles.
Do not feed sea turtles or other wildlife.
This encourages them to approach people in high traffic areas.
Never buy products
made from sea turtles.
Reduce the amount of plastic garbage you produce.
Turn off the lights! Keep beachfront lights off throughout the night from May
to October as they can confuse sea turtles during the mating season. Suggested
alternatives to decrease artificial lighting include use of motion sensors
for safety, dark window tinting and curtains to cover inside light, and yellow
light bulbs (“bug lights”). Studies have also shown that light from
low pressure sodium vapor sources don’t attract turtles as much as high
pressure sodium lights Avoid fluorescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, and
white incandescent lighting.
Oppose coastal armoring. The fewer obstacles sea turtles have to overcome,
the better their chances of successful nesting.
Reduce the amount of fertilizers you use. Ordinary lawn and garden fertilizers
wash into coastal waters killing plants and animals. Look for biodegradable
alternatives, and correctly dispose of used toxic chemicals.
Write a letter to the editor. Use your local newspaper to inform people about
the plight of sea turtles and what they can do to help.
Adopt a Turtle. Join and support the Sea Turtle Survival League by calling
1-800-678-7853 or writing to 4424 N.W. 13th St. Suite A-1, Gainesville, FL
Buy a License Plate. The next time you renew your automobile registration at
your local tax collector’s office, request a specialty sea turtle plate.
The extra dollars go toward protection, research, and recovery programs at
the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund in the Florida Fish and Wildlife
What do the hatchlings do after they leave their nests?
After the two-month incubation period, the turtle hatchlings all dig out of
their nest at the same time, a process that can take several days. As a group,
they then leave their nest at night and head directly for the sea. This first
trek “imprints” their home beach into the hatchlings. Once grown,
the turtles will return to lay their nests on the same beach.
What is a hatchling’s chance of survival?
Only about one in 1,000 turtles survive to adulthood. Hatchlings die of dehydration
if they don’t make it to the ocean fast enough. Birds, crabs, and other
animals also prey on the young turtles.
What should I do if I find hatchlings wandering in a road, parking lot, or
in directions other than toward the water?
Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of
Law Enforcement at
1-888-404-FWCC or *FWC from your cell phone.
What should I do if I find sea turtle hatchlings on the beach?
- Watch from a
- Allow them to crawl to the water on their own.
- Leave them in their nest.
- Keep all lights off.
What should I do if I see a sea turtle nesting?
Stay behind her at a distance and remain quiet.
Don’t use any lights, including flashlights, flash photography, and video
Don’t put your hands on or near the turtle. Any distractions may frighten
and disorient her, causing her to return to the ocean before completely covering
and camouflaging her nest.
What threatens sea turtle survival?
Natural Predation–Many predators such as crabs, ants, raccoons, and birds
target turtle eggs and hatchlings. If they are lucky enough to reach adulthood,
sea turtles are relatively immune to predation, except for the occasional shark
Human Predation–Though most countries have laws against harvesting sea
turtle eggs for food, the laws are not well enforced. Adult turtles are also
harvested for meat, and their shells are made into jewelry and souvenirs.
Commercial Fishing–Entanglement in fishing nets is a major contributor
to the death toll of juvenile and adult sea turtles. In the past, shrimping
nets killed more than 50,000 turtles annually. Now, U.S. shrimpers are required
to put Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on their trawl nets.
Ingesting Plastic and other litter and debris–Thousands of sea turtles
die each year from eating and becoming entangled in plastic bags and balloons
floating in the water. While releasing helium balloons into the air is a common
way to celebrate and event, the balloons end up drifting in the oceans where
sea turtles mistake them for one of their main food sources, jellyfish.
Artificial Lighting–Nesting sea turtles look for dark, quiet beaches
to lay their eggs. Lights from buildings along the beach distract and confuse
the females as well as the hatchlings. When the young turtles emerge from the
nest at night, they are drawn toward the lights instead of the water. A single
light can cause hundreds of misdirected hatchlings to be killed by automobiles
on nearby roads and parking lots, dehydrate in the morning sun, and increase
their chance of being killed by predators like birds, crabs, and even cats.
Coastal Armoring–Sea walls, sandbags, and other barriers built to protect
beachfront property from erosion block female turtles from ideal nesting grounds.
The developing coastline is rapidly encroaching on suitable nesting beaches.
Beach Nourishment–Another way to combat property erosion on beaches is
to bring in truckloads of sand. If the sand is of a different consistency or
is too compacted, the nesting behaviors of turtles can be drastically altered.
If the renourishment is done during nesting season, there is also a possibility
nests will be buried too far underground or be run over by trucks.
Pollution–Everything from oil spills to fertilizer runoff can contaminate
the ocean habitat of the sea turtles, killing their food sources and causing
When do sea turtles nest?
The main nesting months run from May to October, but there are many exceptions
to the rule. Leatherbacks have been known to start as early as February,
and depending on water temperature, hatchlings emerge well into the winter
Who should I call if I find a stranded turtle?
Collier County Environmental Services Department 239.732.2505 or Florida
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement
1-888-404-FWCC or *FWC from your cell phone.
All information courtesy Florida Marine Research Institute & Collier County
Environmental Services Department
To learn more visit the Florida Marine Research Institute website: www.floridamarine.org