Did you know you technically need a permit to touch or mark off a sea turtle nest?
Or that if you see a sea turtle on the beach at night it’s bad for them if you take a picture on your phone?
Or even that red lighting instead of white lights could save a sea turtle’s life?
We’re in the peak of nesting season, and last week a big mama sea turtle was found dead on Miami Beach. That made us realize we’re still pretty clueless about how to protect these creatures, some of which are endangered.
So we talked to the Miami-Dade County Sea Turtle Conservation Program.
Teal Kawana is the program manager there, and she’s the only one in the county permitted for sea turtle handling. She said that right now there are more than 300 Loggerhead (not endangered) and Green turtles (endangered) nests all over the county’s 18.5 miles of sandy beach.
Right now though, the most popular place turtles seem to be laying their eggs is Key Biscayne.
“The turtles really like it there,” Kawana said.
To protect nests – which will be laid until the end of October – this is what you should do:
Up your lighting game
This is a big one. Here are three general rules:
- Keep it long. Long wavelength light is much harder for sea turtles to see. By using a dim amber or red light bulb, turtles won’t be disrupted or get lost on their way to the ocean and humans don’t have to be in total darkness.
- Keep it low. Mount lights on buildings on or close to beaches at a low level. And keep that long wavelength light on the dimmer side instead of a screaming bright red.
- Keep it Shielded. And keep this low-mounted dim red light of yours shielded from directly facing the ocean.
A good lighting resource is The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation, (aka FWC). It has a specific light guide dedicated to showcasing sea turtle lighting options and how to use them.
We know you want to take a cool close up pic of this beautiful sea turtle on the beach that you came across on your evening walk. Don’t.
If you come up on one, you want to stay as still as possible.
Sea turtles get distracted easily. If you are too close, or the flash on your camera catches them, they get all turned around and never make it back to their natural path toward the ocean.
Kawana recommends staying a safe distance of at least 50 feet away, but better if it’s 100.
It’s normal for sea turtles to crawl up onto the beach, and for whatever reason, decide that, “Hey, this isn’t where I want to lay my nest”, so they just crawl right back into the water and swim to a different beach.
These are considered to be “false crawls” – when you see turtle tracks in the sand, but no eggs.
It’s important not to walk through these marks in the sand when you are out enjoying the beach, Kawana said. The program collects data on false crawls every morning when they survey for nests.
Move your beach furniture
Those chairs and umbrellas you love to leave out at your favorite spot on the beach? They’ve gotta go.
Sea turtles get stuck in beach furniture that’s left around more often than you would think.
If you have to keep your fave chair by the ocean, make sure to move it as close as you can to a dune, and leave space to make sure a turtle can get out if it runs into it.
Who to call and when
If you do see a sea turtle on the beach, there are people who want to know. But only if it’s in distress – so injured, sick-looking, or dead. Call Kawana at the MDC Sea Turtle Conservation Program if you see a turtle problem.
If you see what looks like an unmarked nest in the middle of the day that you think the program might have missed, call.
If the turtle is happy and doing its normal thing, just walking in the sand or trying to lay its eggs – don’t call. That’s what they come here to do and their nests will be found and marked in the next morning’s survey, Kawana said.
There’s one last thing you should call the program about: hatchlings.
If you find a disoriented baby sea turtle, call right away so that someone from the program can take it to get rehydrated. Hatchlings need extra care if they get lost, and there’s going to be a lot of them.
Another reason to watch where you walk.