It’s sea turtle nesting season, and many of us have spotted the yellow stakes lined with tape on the beach intended to protect sea turtles’ nests from being trampled on. We are careful to stay away from these sites, with hope that baby sea turtles will hatch without interference. But sometimes we don’t realize that our daily beach habits are affecting the nesting season in big ways—including our beach furniture.
Members from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Patrol and volunteers from the Longboat Key Turtle Watch have reported three incidents in the past week of loggerhead sea turtles getting entangled in beach furniture on Longboat Key. Turtle tracks have been found beneath beach chair tracks, suggesting that the turtles got trapped in the furniture and dragged it down to the water on their way into the Gulf. In one incident, loggerhead turtle tracks were found alongside beach chair tracks, but neither the turtle nor the chair was found. Mote scientists don’t know what happened to the turtle.
Loggerheads are Southwest Florida’s most common turtle species, and they nest at night. When beachgoers leave their furniture on the beach at the end of the day, it presents a risk for the turtles and their hatchlings.
Melissa Bernhard, a staff biologist at Mote Marine, says, “The best thing to do is keep the beaches as natural as possible.” Removing your beach chairs after you're done, or dragging them up as close to the dune line as possible, will help prevent turtles from getting caught in the furniture. “Have fun during the day, but when you’re done, leave the beach how you found it, or better,” Bernhard advises.
Mote has put together a list of steps you can take to help protect the sea turtles during nesting season.
- Refrain from going near sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape.
- If you encounter a nesting sea turtle or its hatchlings, stay quiet and observe from a distance.
- Turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach.
- Fill in holes that may trap hatchlings on their way to the water. Sandcastle holes create a dangerous terrain for the hatchlings, and should be filled in when you are done.
- Use flashlights, head lamps or fishing lamps on the beach.
- Encourage a turtle to move during nesting, or pick up any of the hatchlings.
- Use fireworks on the beach.
- Walk dogs on any beach where they are not allowed.
If you spot a sea turtle that is entangled, distressed or deceased in Sarasota or Manatee counties, you can contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941) 988-0212. If you spot a similar situation anywhere else in Florida, call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at (888) 404-FWCC.