They lumber ashore, leaving deep tracks in the sand. They don’t eat at local restaurants or shop in stores, but these special “tourists” leave something more than their imprints in the sand – they leave the next generation of sea turtles.
Florida beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, are home to five turtle species, all included in the Endangered Species Act. One out of every 1,000 hatchlings reaches maturity.
Angel Gonzalez and Celena Cline, park services specialists at Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, educated 12 people on the history and nesting habits of sea turtles in Flagler Beach.
“You are going to learn all you need to know about turtles today,” Cline said, before Gonzalez began the presentation under the beachside pavilion at the park.
Gonzalez entertained the audience, which included children and adults, with his descriptive image, describing the leatherback turtle (seen occasionally in the area between April and June) as, “a Volkswagen coming out of the water,” and the eruption of hatchlings returning to the sea, as “Macy’s on a Black Friday sale.”
As of July 8, there had been 140 nests documented, and marked, in the area between High Tides at Snack Jack restaurant and Kingston Shores in Volusia County, a four-mile stretch of beach, monitored by the park staff and volunteers. The number surpassed the 139 count for the entire 2015 turtle season.
“Loggerheads are the most common sea turtle found on Flagler and Volusia beaches,” Gonzalez said. “Green sea turtles are found mostly in June and July; leatherbacks like the cooler water temperatures and will lay most often in April, May and early June. The loggerhead lays eggs whenever they feel like it.”
“If you see a Volkswagen coming ashore, that’s a leatherback,” Gonzalez said. “They are quite a site to see.”
Abby Grove, 9, and her brother Ben, 6, came with their mom Becky to learn about sea turtles and how they could help them. The family moved to the area from Dothan, Alabama last December.
After learning that items left behind, like chairs and canopies, and even holes dug in the sand and even sandcastles, can hinder the mother turtle’s attempt to return to the sea, Abby said she was definitely going to be filling in her holes when she finished playing on the beach.
Heightened awareness was exactly what Cline and Gonzalez hoped to achieve at the turtle talk.
“A lot of decisions we make during the day do have consequences on our wildlife,” Cline said.
The female turtles are the only ones who return to the beach, and will return to an area close to where they began their lives at least 35 years before. The males stay in the water their entire lives.
“They can come ashore multiple nights and lay 80-120 eggs,” Gonzalez said. “They have up to three chambers that can hold the eggs.”
Most turtles lay their eggs at night, and spectators are asked to keep a respectful distance, and not shine lights on them.
“If you are walking on the beach with a flashlight, get an amber shade for it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s usually late at night, but if you get to see it, that’s a miracle.”
- Florida beaches are home to 80% of Loggerhead turtles in the U.S.
- Turtles can migrate thousands of miles, but usually return to lay their eggs on the same beach where they hatched
- Sea turtles have existed for over one hundred million years
- It can take 15 - 50 years before a sea turtle is capable of reproducing
- Scientists estimate that only 1 in 1000 to 10,000 babies will survive to adulthood
- Sea turtles live their entire life in the ocean. The only time they come ashore is when the female lays her eggs.
- Sea turtles are reptiles. They breathe air, and can hold their breath for long periods of time.
- When it’s time to sleep, a loggerhead will wedge under a rock close to the shore, or take a snooze while floating on the surface of deep water
- Hatchlings weigh less than one ounce and are only two inches long. Adults can grow over 3 feet long and weigh 200 to 300 pounds!
- The nest temperature during incubation determines a sea turtle's sex. Boys like it cool - Girls like it hot.
- Sea turtles have great underwater vision, but are nearsighted out of the water.
- Although sea turtles do not have external ears, they are capable of hearing low frequency sounds and vibrations
- Sea turtles use their strong jaws to crush a diet of crabs, shrimp, mussels, and jelly fish.
See Florida Online