During the summer, upwards of 50,000 turtles are swimming in Florida waters: loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley turtles, all of which are threatened or endangered. Since they spend almost all of their life in the water, most of what we know about sea turtles comes from observing their nesting and hatching, making Florida a research hub. Annually, loggerheads (the primary species that lay their eggs here) dig more than 2,000 nests on Sarasota County’s 35 miles of beaches. It’s illegal to disturb the nests or the animals, but Mote Laboratory offers expert-guided sea turtle experiences.
Home, Sweet Home
Sea turtles can migrate for thousands of miles, but usually return to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs.
Though they’ve been around for more than 110 million years, among the earth’s oldest creatures, sea turtle populations have plummeted in the last century or so, losing nesting areas to development, getting caught in commercial fishing nets, mistakenly eating debris and even being hunte
Nests, which are dug with the female’s back flippers and then covered with sand, can contain more than 100 eggs; very few hatchlings will make it to adulthood.
In 2014, Venice made international headlines when a Kemp’s ridley turtle—one of the world’s rarest species—was captured on video making its nest in broad daylight on Venice Beach. That species rarely nests outside of Texas, and sea turtles typically build their nests at night.
They’re powerful swimmers, but sea turtles don’t fare so well when they come ashore to lay their eggs. It’s important not to leave large holes or furniture on the beach overnight (especially in the summer), so as not to ensnare them.
Why So Dark?
Sea turtle hatchlings emerge at night, when the sand cools, and have to quickly find their way to the water for any hope of surviving. Beachfront lights can lead them astray. Various ordinances prohibit artificial light on the waterfront from sunset to sunrise, May through October. (Lights that are absolutely necessary are tinted red for less impact on the hatchlings.)
A Long Life
Sea turtles are famously long-lived—think of Crush, the 150-year-old surfer loggerhead from Finding Nemo (the usual lifespan is more like 80 years). Most don’t reach reproductive age until they’re 15 years old.