According to the Florida Wildlife Commission, only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings mature to adults.
We’re in the heart of sea turtle nesting season in Northeast Florida, and turtle nests and hatchlings have been spotted all over the beaches. According to the Jacksonville Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol, around 100 nests have already been counted along our coastline, including over 90 loggerheads and a few leatherbacks, the largest sea turtle in the world that can measure as long as six feet and weigh up to half a ton.
With summer in full swing, people are flocking to the beaches in droves. Sea turtles usually hatch and nest under the cover of darkness when beaches see the least human activity, but it’s not uncommon to come across turtles hatching during the day. If you happen to come across a turtle nest or baby sea turtles waddling their way into the shore break, here are a few tips to help keep these creatures safe, given that every species of sea turtle in our coastal waters is on the vulnerable or endangered list.
Despite baby sea turtles being the cutest thing your eyes have ever graced, do not pick up, touch or even approach them. When turtles hatch, they “imprint” on the sand, meaning, they leave oils behind so they know where to come back to when they’ve reached sexual maturity (20-30 years later) to lay their own eggs. On top of this, baby turtles have extremely fragile bodies with a white pouch on their bellies, holding around three days worth of food, that can easily rupture if handled incorrectly.
Do not use flash photography or shine lights on adult or adolescent turtles. Baby turtles crawl in the direction of the closest white light (which is why most beachside towns are lined with colored lights rather than white ones), and they can become easily confused. Instead, use red lights if you need some light for your late night beach combing.
Check your sunscreen! Many sunscreens contain chemicals, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, that contribute to ocean acidification and harm the habitats of turtles. Read the labels and only use mineral-based sunscreens, like those from Sun Bum or similar brands.
If you see an injured turtle on the beach or something appears to be wrong with it, do not touch it and contact the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol at 904-613-6081.