Happy Sea Turtle Nesting Season! Yep, that magical time starts May 1st and lasts until October 31st (starts March 1st for some areas of Florida). Just imagine, mama sea turtles coming to shore in the disguise of night to lay a nest of 100+ eggs, and then two months later, the babies emerging with their adorable little shells and flippers scurrying down the beach!
With the onset of nesting season, it also means that people living near and visiting the coast have an important responsibility. Did you know that our lights that shine on the beach can make it or break it for a baby sea turtle? And that very few sea turtles survive to adulthood even without our influence?
I remember growing up seeing bumper stickers and signs around the community with sayings like “SEA TURTLES DIG THE DARK” and “KEEP SEA TURTLES IN THE DARK.”
It always fascinated me as to why this is so important that coastal folks and out-of-town visitors pay attention to this during nesting season. There are a couple of very important reasons, and the lives of sea turtles depend on it:
- The lights can interfere with the mama sea turtle’s comfort in nesting. The lights can disturb her and cause her to abort the nesting process.
- The baby sea turtles instinctually orient themselves toward the brightest light when they emerge from the nest at night, which should be the moon shining on the surface of the sea. Many a sea turtle have wandered inland because they’ve been fooled by beachfront man-made lights.
What I find interesting too is that lights aren’t the only clue that give sea turtles an idea of the right path to follow. They also weigh in dark silhouettes and the slope of the beach. Amazing!
TIP for teachers and Marine Bio lovers: check out this module which lets you virtually experiment with how sea turtles orient themselves when they emerge from the nest: http://www.chance.psu.edu/modules/Sea-Turtle-Hatchlings/sea-turtle-hatchlings.html.
I also use Kate Mansfield’s “Sea Turtle Survivor” simulation lesson with ping pong balls for students to really understand the natural challenges alone that make survival difficult for sea turtles: http://web.vims.edu/bridge/survivor.pdf.
Sea turtles spend most of their life at sea, and they are one of the very few sea creatures to intersect with us on land. Nesting season gives such a wondrous opportunity to connect with them before they head back to sea.
If you’re going to the beach, check to see if there are sea turtle organizations in the area that organize viewing events where you can actually witness the hatchlings’ journey to the water. I promise it will be an event you’ll never forget! Organizations that we’re familiar with are the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in Jekyll Island, Georgia.
With natural pressures and human threats like plastic bags (that resemble their food, jellyfish), chemical pollution, artificial lighting, beach development and the likes, sea turtles need our help more than ever. In celebration of sea turtles and their incredible life cycle, let’s keep sea turtles in the dark this nesting season!
More sea turtle love:
Sea Turtle Nest in the Classroom: our post about the sea turtle nest model we made out of an aquarium no longer functional for fish