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Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Nesting Season is March Through October

sea turtleSea turtles are marine reptiles that have existed since the Age of Dinosaurs. Of the seven species of sea turtles worldwide, three of these, the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nest regularly on the beaches of Broward County from April through September every year. The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle using the area for nesting. In fact, Florida, from the Space Coast to the Gold Coast, is the second most important nesting area in the world for loggerhead sea turtles.

 

Florida Sea Turtle Species

Kemp's

Hawksbill

Loggerhead (threatened)

Green (endangered)

Leatherback (endangered)

Kemp's Ridley
(endangered)

Hawksbill
(endangered)

Loggerhead
(threatened)

Green
(endangered)
Leatherback
(endangered)

Sea turtle populations have been seriously reduced world-wide through a number of human influences. Over-developed coastal areas have reduced natural nesting habitats while capture of adult turtles for eggs, meat, leather, and tortoise shell has decreased breeding populations. Incidental capture of adults in fishing nets and shrimp trawls is also a significant factor contributing to sea turtle mortality.

Sea turtles in Florida are protected through Florida Statutes, Chapter 370, and by the United States Endangered Species Act of 1973. Briefly, these laws state that: "No person may take, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or attempt to engage in any such conduct to marine turtles, turtle nests, and/or turtle eggs." Any person who knowingly violates any provision of the act may be assessed civil penalties up to $25,000 or a criminal penalty up to $100,000 and up to one year imprisonment.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season

The nesting season in Broward County begins in early March of each year with the leatherbacks, followed by loggerheads in April, and greens in May and June. Leatherbacks are less predictable and can nest as early as February or March. Nesting continues through the end of September, with the peak season for loggerheads being the end of June and the beginning of July. If undisturbed, the females leave the water at night and crawl up the beach where they dig an egg chamber cavity.

sea turtleAfter resting briefly, they then deposit approximately 100 golf-ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. They then leave the nest site and reenter the water.

Since adult sea turtles do not nurture their hatchlings, the female never sees the nest site again. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. Approximately half of all emergences result in a female crawling on the beach for long distances and reentering the water without digging a nest. These are called "false crawls" and usually occur because the turtle was disturbed or it could not find a suitable nest site. The crawl tracks left on the beach are always made by female sea turtles and they resemble marks left by a tractor tire. Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.

group of sea turtles going to the oceanIncubation of the nests takes about 45-55 days. Here in Broward County the eggs that are deposited in the chambers are either left to incubate naturally or are moved, (relocated) to a safer area of the beach. Some of the nests are relocated because of the extent of the development on our beaches and the bright lights from condos, streets, and highway traffic. The relocation process serves to protect the emerging hatchlings so they can exit the nest and traverse the beach to the water on their own. Nests that are not moved are those that are already on safe beaches.

After incubation, the hatchlings emerge from the nest en masse and, using various environmental and inherited cues, quickly migrate to the water's edge. If artificial lights are lighting the beach, the hatchlings will be disoriented, travel in the wrong direction, and possibly never make it to the water.

Once in the water the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a perilous struggle to survive to adulthood. The best scientific estimates available indicate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive (anywhere from 12-50 years) to become a reproductive adult sea turtle.

The maximum age of adult turtles is unknown, but some have been kept in captivity longer than 50 years.

Sea Turtle Emergency Line

Report all stranded (dead, sick, or injured) turtles to the Sea Turtle Emergency line at (954) 328-0580. Do not report normal crawling or nesting (digging or laying eggs) activity unless the animal is in a dangerous situation (on a road, in a parking lot, or has wandered well off the beach).

Find Out More

For general information on sea turtles in Broward County, or to obtain a copy of the latest Sea Turtle Conservation Program Technical Report, please contact the Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department at 954-519-1255.