Sea turtles are mysterious, graceful creatures that move to secret rhythms of the tides and seasons. They are also ancient creatures – about as ancient as creatures get here on Earth, surviving for more than 100 million years. To give it some perspective, dinosaurs faded into oblivion 65 million years ago.
Yet six of the seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered, thanks to humans. Fisheries, especially their longlines, gill nets, and trawls, impact sea turtles. The most severe of these impacts are death after entanglement, habitat destruction and food web changes.
Further, sea turtles and their eggs are harvested throughout the world for food and for products such as oil, leather and shell. Coastal development, pollution and climate change also take tolls.
Since Florida is the most important nesting area for sea turtles in the United States, that makes what beach-goers do -- and don’t do -- vitally important.
You don’t need to stick your neck out to help keep our turtles out of trouble. Here are a few timely turtle tips to heed during nesting season, from March through October.
- If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
- Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach. Artificial lights can affect sea turtle behavior. (Hatchings crawl toward the brightest thing, which should be the sea. If they end up crawling toward the highway instead the outcome is obviously not good.)
- Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
- Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
- Place trash in its proper place.
- Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles
- Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach
- Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water
- Use fireworks on the beach
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