Every now and then even Florida’s subtropical waters get a little chilly for sea turtles. These reptiles usually move to deep water when a cold front rolls through, but occasionally a few get caught in shallow water and need a little help from humans. That’s when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its partners come to the rescue.
Approximately 50 sea turtles were rehabilitated and returned the wild recently to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Cape San Blas. Boaters often spot cold-stunned turtles floating listlessly in the water. Beach strollers may also find them washed up on shore, largely unable to move.
Most of the recently-rescued sea turtles were found in St. Joseph Bay, while others were rescued near Crooked Island and in Big Lagoon in Escambia County and taken to Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City.
Sea turtles have been around for more than 100 million years and are making a comeback thanks to conservation laws. Sea turtles typically return to the beaches where they were born during the summer months and dig a nest in the soft sand where they deposit up to 100 eggs about the size of a pingpong ball.
Eggs typically incubate for 45-60 days, and hatchlings emerge on beaches through the fall. People can help increase the hatchlings' odds for survival by turning off or shielding outdoor lights that face the water. Hatchlings can become disoriented by them and head away from the water, where they can fall prey to raccoons.
Loggerhead, green turtle and leatherback nest regularly along the state's shoreline. But two other species, the hawksbill and Kemp's ridley, occasionally visit. All five species are federally protected. If you see an injured or sick turtle, call the FWC toll-free at 1-888-404-3922. For more information, go to myfwc.com/seaturtle.