It’s that amazing time of year again! Hatchling season began in the Florida Keys April 15th, meaning that baby sea turtles are emerging from the nest under the warm sand and making their way to ocean. The turtle mothers have been hard at work digging nests and laying eggs for the past few months (and will continue throughout the summer). We’ve had several nests hatch on Long Key, at Bahia Honda State Park and in Key West. We even had a clutch of Green sea turtle hatchlings in the Marquesas Keys!
Baby sea turtles face many obstacles when first leaving their nests such as raccoons, crabs, birds and fish. Sometimes these hatchlings may not even make it into the ocean because of artificial lighting on the beaches. Sea turtles use the moonlight to guide themselves to the ocean but often get distracted by bright lights from beach homes, condos, restaurants and other businesses that have lights facing the beach. Theses bright lights often cause hatchlings to become disoriented as they emerge from their nest.
Here are some tips on helping these young sea turtles survive their first moments after leaving their nests:
If you live or vacation at a home on the beach with lights facing the water we ask you to please turn the lights off as the sun starts to set, cover your lights, or purchase sea turtle safe lighting. Sea turtles have blurry vision when on land making it hard for them to tell the difference between artificial lighting and the moon light. Red and yellow light waves are the hardest for sea turtles to detect so attaching red filters to your beach lights can prevent nesting mother turtles and her babies from becoming disorientated.
When walking the beach at night during nesting and hatchling seasons please use a red flash light. Sea turtles are less likely to be attracted to this lighting (same reasons as stated above) and it will not disturb them as much as they try to get safely to the ocean. You may not even need a flashlight if the moon is full! You can also take a trash bag with you and help our hatchlings and nesting females by picking up trash while you walk. Trash can become an obstacle for hatchling sea turtles and nesting females.
If you choose to take photos of hatchlings as they come out of their nest and make their way to the ocean at night turn the flash of your camera off! Even these short flashes of bright lights can cause a turtle to become disorientated.
Don’t harass the hatchlings as they emerge from their nest. Please just stand back and watch as this spectacular part of nature takes place in front of your eyes. It is illegal to touch or handle a sea turtle. If you see hatchlings going the wrong way please call Florida Fish and Wildlife at 1-888- 404 -FWCC.
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