April 15th marks the beginning of Turtle Season 2023, and we are excited to have them back!
Siesta Key at Sunrise
Last week was the beginning of turtle nesting season here in Sarasota and we are so excited they are back! Courtney, along with her mom and daughter (Olive) volunteer for MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and participate in Turtle Patrol weekly. Walking the beach at civil sunrise is a very special experience. There are very few (if any) beach goers, its quiet and the way the sun touches the Gulf of Mexico as it rises is breathtaking. While being on the beach early is beautiful, we are there for a very important reason, to find and mark turtle nests (and document hatchings).
Liz (Courtney's Mom) and Olive on Turtle Patrol
Turtles play a very significant role in the ecosystem and their survival is critical, that's why there are over 150 local volunteers that participate in helping these amazing creatures!
Siesta Key sunrise with moon
Southwest Florida's beaches are absolutely beautiful but they also play a very important role and serve as nesting grounds for sea turtles. The area is home to five of the world's seven sea turtle species, including loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles. From April to October, female sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, on the same beach which they were born! Each female lays about 100 eggs in a nest that she digs herself. Once she has laid the eggs, she covers the nest (hole) and makes her journey back into the Gulf of Mexico. She does all of this in ONE night! These eggs spend several weeks in these nests as they grow into little baby turtles, soon they are pushing their way out of the nest and making the long and treacherous journey to their new home (the Gulf of Mexico).
Marked Turtle Tracks
Sea turtle nesting season is a critical time for their survival. Beachgoers can play a crucial role in protecting sea turtles and their nests by following a few simple guidelines.
First and foremost, it is essential to respect the sea turtles and their habitat. This means avoiding any activities that may disturb them, such as loud noises, bright lights, or getting too close to the turtles. It is also important to remove any obstacles from the beach that may prevent the turtles from reaching the water, such as chairs, umbrellas, and other beach gear. One of the main dangers we see often is large holes or giant sand castles. While these are fun to build during the day, Momma turtles can get trapped in the holes or disoriented by the large sand sculptures . Its very important that you level out the sand before you leave for the day...you could be saving a turtles life!
Baby turtle making his way to the water on Siesta Key beach
During nesting season, all Sarasota beaches have sea turtle monitoring programs in place through MOTE to ensure the safety of the turtles and their nests. These programs involve trained volunteers who walk the beaches early in the morning, looking for signs of turtle activity. If a nest is discovered, it will be marked off and monitored throughout the season until the baby turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. If you see a marked nest, please do not cross the lines into the nest area. This area is protecting the eggs and if you step on them or attempt to dig them up, they might not survive.
Marked Sea Turtle Nest
Beautiful Siesta Key at sunrise
Visitors can learn more about sea turtles and their nesting habits by vising the MOTE Aquarium or mote.org/seaturtles. MOTE offers educational programs including presentations and guided tours of nesting sites, as well as tips on how to protect sea turtles and their habitat. You can even get up close and personal with real sea turtles at MOTE.
Patrolling the beach for nests
Some tips for observing sea turtles without disturbing them include staying at least 50 feet away from them, being quiet, and keeping lights off. It is also important to remember that sea turtles are slow and may pause often, but this does not mean they need help.
In addition to their importance to the environment, sea turtles also have a cultural significance to many communities in Southwest Florida. Today, the conservation of sea turtles and their habitat is essential to maintaining the delicate balance of the ecosystem and ensuring the sustainability of these communities. Sea turtles are a keystone species, meaning their presence is essential to the health of an entire ecosystem. They help to maintain seagrass beds, which are important spawning and nursery grounds for many species of fish.
Siesta Key at Sunrise
Sea turtle nesting season is a special time of year here, in Southwest Florida. A wonderful way to witness one of nature's most incredible spectacles as well as to contribute to conservation efforts that protect these amazing creatures is to visit the area. By following a few simple guidelines and learning more about sea turtles and their habitat, we can all do our part to ensure their survival for generations to come. Visit https://mote.org/ to learn more!