Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Walk along any of Florida’s Atlantic beaches this month, and you will see patches of sand marked with blue or orange flagging. Some areas have a thin wooden stake with a yellow notice attached.
What do the markers signify?
The flagging marks the spot where a sea turtle has laid her eggs. At dawn every day during the May to October turtle nesting season, volunteers and park staff scour the beach for the huge telltale tracks made by female sea turtles as they come ashore to nest. About the size of the tracks of an ATV, the turtle tracks emerge from the ocean and travel up towards the dune line. Volunteers mark and list each crawl, and note if and where the turtle nested.
Three species of sea turtles – the loggerhead, green and leatherback - nest regularly on Florida’s beaches, mostly on beaches in Brevard, Palm Beach, Martin, Indian River and St Lucie counties. However, you will see posted and marked turtle nests on almost any beach along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
During the sea turtle nesting season several Parks and Recreation areas (see list below) run guided ‘turtle walk’ programs, in which experienced guides take small groups of people out at night to look for nesting sea turtles. The programs are incredibly popular and most spaces fill up almost as soon as the office opens for reservations. Call ahead - advance reservations are a must.
Protection of nesting beaches is a key goal in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s sea turtle conservation program. However, individuals can also do their part. When you leave the beach for the day, take your beach chairs and umbrellas with you. Fill in holes, flatten sandcastles, and pick up trash. If you are lucky enough to see a turtle on the beach stay a good distance away. Don’t shine flashlights at her or take flash photographs.
If you find a dead or injured sea turtle call the Florida Marine Patrol at 1-800-DIAL-FMP.
Turtle walk programs
Canaveral National Seashore
Sea Turtle Preservation Society (Melbourne Beach)
Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
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