Members of Mote Marine Laboratory's Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program have documented two rare leatherback sea turtle nests on local beaches—the first since 2001, when the only other leatherback nest was discovered in the area.
The largest of all sea turtle species, deep-diving, migratory leatherback sea turtles rarely nest on Gulf of Mexico beaches; typically, nesting occurs on Florida's east coast. Leatherbacks are listed on the United States Endangered Species Act and considered "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Green sea turtles and loggerhead sea turtles generally nest in our region, and 2019's nesting season is currently underway, running through October 31. During nesting season, sea turtles swim just offshore to mate before females make their way onto shore to nest. By early summer, hatchlings venture from the nests into Gulf waters, and lights from waterfront properties can disorient nesting female turtles and their young, which emerge at night and use dim natural light to make their way to the ocean. Beach furniture, trash and other obstacles—such as holes from sandcastles—can also impede the hatchlings' journey.
Turtle-friendly tips for beachgoers include filling in holes on the beach, picking up litter, turning off beachside lights at night and bringing in furniture. Mote has documented 45 sea turtle nests so far in 2019, with the first appearing before the official start of the season on April 21.