Orientation Circles: Sea Turtles at Sunrise

Loggerhead Marinelife Center's morning research team captures the orientation circles of a nesting leatherback sea turtle at sunrise.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s morning research team captures the orientation circles of a nesting leatherback at sunrise.

Orientation Circles and Nesting Season

Each morning during sea turtle nesting season, a team of our researchers patrol our 9.5-mile stretch of beach for nesting sea turtles. The researchers begin their patrol before sunrise and survey the beach until they’ve documented all of the new nests.

Due to the current pandemic, our research team has performed surveys with fewer team members than usual. While the days are long, and nesting season continues to ramp up, our researchers still take the time to conduct innovative studies and document the orientation circles of nesting leatherbacks.

“Warrior,” a nesting leatherback sea turtle laying her eggs on South Florida beaches.

Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtles nest at the beginning of sea turtle nesting season in South Florida. Therefore, our researchers focus on these turtles for the first few weeks until the loggerhead sea turtles begin to nest.

The first leatherback nest of the season in Juno Beach, FL was laid on February 28, 2020. Since the first nest was laid, our researchers have documented 101 leatherback nests. Leatherback sea turtles begin nesting more frequently during the last week of March and the first week of April.

On March 31, our researchers documented one of the busiest nights with a total of nine laid nests. And on April 8, our researchers documented 47 leatherbacks nests on our 9.5-mile stretch of beach.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center documents leatherback sea turtles' orientation circles during their morning sunrise patrol.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center documents the orientation circles of nesting leatherback during their morning sunrise patrol.

Orientation Circles

We’ve had a busy season, but we make sure to take time to admire orientation circles with a morning sunrise backdrop. Orientation circles are easily distinguished as the tracks that leatherback sea turtles make in the sand as they crawl on and off the beach during nesting season. These circles, also known as orientation “loops,” are typically too beautiful not to photograph. Orientation circles are made by nesting leatherbacks during nesting or after leatherback hatchlings have emerged from their nests.

These marks are evidence of sea-finding behavior in leatherbacks after nesting. For example, think of calibrating the compass on your iPhone to improve the accuracy of your location. These unique-looking crawls can also be caused by disorientation as a result of artificial lighting on or near the beach. Sea turtles might crawl in a 360 degree before orienting eastward and into the water – leaving behind a perfectly-paralleled track on the beach. 

Loggerhead Marinelife Center documented its first loggerhead sea turtle nest on April 13, 2020.

Loggerhead Sea Turtles

As we’ve progressed into the nesting season, our researchers have begun to encounter nesting loggerhead sea turtles. The first loggerhead nest was laid on our beach on April 13. However, the first loggerhead nest of the season was recorded on March 20 on Jupiter Island, FL in Martin County. The earliest loggerhead nest ever recorded in Florida was on March 6, 2007.

As sea turtle nesting season continues, our team will provide frequent updates here on our weekly blog posts!


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.


Media Contact:

Lauren Eissey

Public Relations and Engagement Specialist

561-627-8280, x124