March 1 Marks the Return of Sea Turtle Nesting Season in Palm Beach County
March Madness takes on another meaning for Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) as sea turtle nesting season officially begins. In Palm Beach County, nesting season begins on March 1st and runs through October 31. Sitting on one of the most densely populated sea turtle nesting beaches in the world, LMC has unique and distinct expertise in sea turtle and ocean conservation research.
Palm Beach County’s Turtle Coast
For LMC, sea turtle nesting season began on Friday, February 28th, when a leatherback sea turtle laid the Center’s first nest of the 2020 season. During the 2019 nesting season, LMC researchers logged the following number of sea turtle nests on the Center’s 9.5-mile stretch of beach:
- 187 leatherback sea turtle nests
- 13,400 loggerhead sea turtle nests
- 7,411 green sea turtle nests
- 20,998 total nests in 2019
The numbers above reflect the significance of the 9.5-mile stretch of beach that’s annually monitored by LMC. The Center monitors and protects one of the most prominent sea turtle nesting sites on the planet.
“Sea turtles are the ocean’s canary in the coalmine. The health of our oceans and beaches go hand-in-hand with the health of our sea turtles,” said Jack E. Lighton, LMC President and CEO. “Our Center’s mantra is ‘the sea turtle tells us the health of the ocean and the ocean tells us the health of our planet.’ We strongly believe in one ocean, one planet, one community vision and we are excited to amplify our efforts with the help of our supporters.”
LMC’s Trove of Scientific Data
For 46 years, LMC’s data has helped steer officials, collaborators and sustainability experts with fact-based decisions to improve conditions for sea turtles and their habitats. When monitoring sea turtle nesting, the Center acquires a trove of scientific data. LMC’s researchers collect data on nesting counts, nest productivity, insights on potential threats, findings on appropriate nesting incubation temperatures and information about habitat loss. Retrieved data also provide greater information on shorebirds, the strength of dune ecosystems, marine debris, and insights on what types of sand is best to use during beach re-nourishment.
This nesting season, LMC’s research laboratory is eager to monitor and protect South Florida’s “turtle coast” and looks forward to expanding upon its innovative research projects surrounding nesting leatherbacks, loggerheads and green sea turtles.
“Palm Beach County beaches account for approximately 25 percent of all sea turtle nests laid in the state of Florida, making our local beaches crucial local nesting habitat for Florida’s sea turtles,” said Dr. Justin Perrault, LMC Director of Research. “Continued studies of this species have the potential to develop new policies and programs that benefit sea turtles and their ecosystems.”
During the 2019 sea turtle nesting season, the Center calculated that the total recorded nests likely produced 1.35 million sea turtle hatchlings, making the 9.5-mile stretch of beach one of the most important rookeries in the world.
Protecting Sea Turtles
The Center remains vigilant given the nesting trends across the State of Florida, which report increasing green sea turtle counts and stable loggerhead subpopulations, but a decline in leatherback sea turtles.
Human-caused threats are still the greatest issues that sea turtles face and it is critical for the public and policy makers to understand the modern day threats facing sea turtles and marine life such as, marine debris, habitat loss and reduced water quality.
With the help of its local and global networks, LMC will continue elevating its conservation and education efforts worldwide. Sea turtles are protected by Federal and State laws and LMC encourages all beach goers to abide by the following rules on beaches to protect sea turtles and nesting sites:
Sea Turtle Nesting Season Guidelines
- Keep your distance – Never approach or touch a nesting sea turtle. Keep your distance, remain quiet and keep all lights off (including flash photography and cell phones). Touching, prodding or shining lights may cause the sea turtle to not lay her eggs or disturb her and affect how well she covers and camouflages the nest.
- Let hatchlings emerge – If you see hatchlings on the beach, allow them to crawl to the ocean on their own. Do not remove or dig hatchlings out of a nest. Removing sand above the nest will make it more difficult for the hatchlings to emerge.
- Avoid the dune and vegetation – Enter the beach at designated access points and avoid walking on the dunes or beach vegetation to protect sea turtle nests, shorebird nests and the dune plant ecosystem.
- Turn off lights – Keep lights at your house off while not in use and close your blinds at night to avoid adding to overall sky glow.
- Fill in your holes – Fill all holes back in and knock over sand castles so that nesting turtles and hatchlings can’t fall into them and aren’t hindered as they crawl on the beach.
- Draw the blinds – If you own or are using a beachfront property, make sure to close your blinds and avoid the use of unshielded outdoor lighting fixtures.
- Leave it behind – Remove obstacles such as beach chairs, tables, water-sport equipment and umbrellas before dark.
- Dig holes – Avoid digging holes or using shovels in order to not interfere with incubating sea turtle nests.
- Be a litterbug – Do not leave any trash behind. Trash can hinder nesting and hatchling turtles from crawling to and from the beach. Also, sea turtles may accidentally ingest trash left behind.
- Release balloons – Don’t release balloons, they travel far distances and can be eaten by sea turtles and other marine organisms.
During periods of heavier wind or wave action on Florida’s coastline, sea turtle eggs may become exposed. LMC advises beachgoers to leave exposed eggs and nests untouched; disoriented hatchlings should be brought to the Center’s 24-hour, hatchling rescue cooler, which is located at the entrance of the center. Threatened and endangered hatchlings should be transported with extreme care, in a bucket with damp sand and no water, to prevent accidental drowning.
If you discover a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle, please call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (*FWC) or LMC’s Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline at 561-603-0211.
One Mission. At Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) we strive to be industry leaders in sea turtle and ocean conservation. Our work is focused on four core pillars, each focused on demonstrating measurable impact. Our team researches and conserves sea turtles, because sea turtles tell us the health of the ocean, which in turn tells us the health of our planet. These critical indicator species serve as our global ambassadors for ocean conservation. In this blog, we invite you to dive into the depths of ocean conservation and explore our research efforts.
Our PhD lead research biologists monitor one of the most densely nested loggerhead sea turtle beaches in the world. Through our comprehensive datasets and innovative studies, we are able to determine threats affecting the health of our sea turtles, oceans and ultimately us. Our research and datasets are invaluable not only to scientists, but also to local, national and international coastal managers. Donate to propel our mission and save sea turtles at: marinelife.org/onemission.
Lauren Eissey, Public Relations and Engagement Specialist