TAMPA, Fla. — If you’re taking a stroll along the beach at night, you may be lucky enough to see sea turtles laying eggs in the sand.
It’s nesting season, and luckily, most of it happens on Florida’s beaches.
Between March and October, sea turtles will make anywhere between 40,000 to 84,000 nests across the Sunshine State's coast. The state is a hotspot for sea turtles, with nearly 90 percent of nesting happening on Florida’s beaches.
Five sea turtle species nest in Florida: loggerheads, green sea turtles, leatherbacks, Kemp’s ridleys and hawksbills. Adult leatherbacks can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
Once the sun sets, these gentle giants will make their way onto shore, finding a spot to nest. After slowly digging a hole, females will lay the soft-shell eggs, sometimes up to 120 of them.
She will bury the eggs in the sand once she’s done, then head back out to sea, never to return to the eggs. In one season, some species of sea turtles will nest up to 10 times.
What is possibly one of the coolest things about sea turtles is their sense of navigation. Experts say these female sea turtles frequently lay eggs on the very same beach they were born on, often only hundreds of yards away from the original nest. You can even track the paths of several sea turtles through the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Once the hatchlings have made it out of their eggs and through the sand, it’s a mad dash for the water. If they don’t make it quickly, they’ll face dehydration, or even be caught by predators like crabs or birds. However, even the ocean isn’t always a safe place for a baby sea turtle.
Predators like sharks, big fish, and even more birds are waiting, and you can’t forget about pollution. Many baby sea turtles will die from eating tarballs and plastic garbage.
With so many obstacles, it’s estimated that only one in 1,000 sea turtles will survive to adulthood.
On top of all of this, climate change poses a risk to sea turtle populations, and it goes all the way back to their eggs. Temperature dictates the gender of sea turtles, and warmer weather leads to more females.
Experts say global temperatures are predicted to increase by as much as seven degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. If temperatures continue to rise, scientists are worried about the widespread “feminization” of sea turtle hatchlings.
If you’re interested in seeing sea turtles in person, there are a few rules you’ll need to follow. One of the biggest aspects of sea turtles laying eggs is that it often happens at night. That means you shouldn't use a flashlight or shine any light on the face of a sea turtle.
The light could spook them, causing the turtle to stop nesting and return to the water, and even discourage other nearby sea turtles from coming ashore. As much as you want an Instagram-worth picture, you shouldn’t use a flash.
For your safety, please don’t go near the turtle’s head. Sea turtles, especially those giant loggerheads, have very strong jaws and aren’t afraid of protecting themselves.
This one should be obvious — but don’t touch sea turtle eggs. They’re very delicate and experts say you could introduce bacteria.
All five of the sea turtle species in Florida are either threatened or endangered. Turtles are protected under state statutes and federal ones too. However, the Sea Turtle Conservancy does say to enjoy this experience, because it’s going to be one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.