Navarre Beach... sparkling white sand, turquoise water and laid back atmosphere, what an ideal vacation destination! But Navarre Beach also attracts another kind of visitor, sea turtles. Each year from May through October these magnificent turtles use our beach for nesting. And each year the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Patrol along with our wonderful volunteers, help protect sea turtles by conducting surveys, protecting nests and educating the public about sea turtle conservation.
There are seven species of sea turtles. Six of those species are in U.S. waters. Five species nest on U.S. beaches and four species nest on Northwest Florida beaches. All sea turtles are either threatened or endangered.
Florida is one of the largest nesting grounds in the world for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). This is our most common sea turtle on Navarre Beach. There are two other sea turtles that also nest on our beach, the Green (Chelonia mydas) and the Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), the rarest of all sea turtle species. The Kemp's Ridley nests during the day and many times the hatchlings will also emerge during daylight hours. We monitor these nests very closely to make sure no hatchlings are lost.
Only female sea turtles come ashore. A female can lay four to six nests during one season. Nests can contain anywhere from 75-150 eggs, depending on the species. The average number of eggs is 100-120. In 2011 we had a loggerhead nest with 145 eggs! The eggs are soft and leathery and just a little larger than a ping pong ball.
We find the nests during our morning patrols. The females will leave crawl marks, "turtle tracks" in the sand from where she nested the night before. Turtle tracks are like fingerprints, they help us identify what species of turtle nested. Loggerhead and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles have an alternating track; they move one front flipper then the next. Green sea turtles have a parallel track; they move both front flippers at the same time, like a butterfly stroke in swimming.
Incubation takes an average of between 60-70 days. Weather conditions and temperatures effect incubation times. The hotter the sand temperature the quicker the embryos develop. Temperatures also affect the sex of the turtles. If the sand temperature during the incubation period stays hot then we have more female hatchlings, cooler sand means more male hatchlings. We start monitoring all nests at day 50. We do this by lying on the ground next to the nest and listening for activity, like scratching. Yes! You really can hear the hatchlings as they start to emerge from their shells! This is our signal that the hatchlings are making their way to the surface. As the scratching gets louder and the nest becomes more active we put a special screen over the nest. This protects the hatchlings from predators and also prevents them from disorientation. Hatchlings rely on vision to find the water. They orient to bright open area/horizons and away from dark areas like dunes and vegetation. Sometimes artificial light is brighter than the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico. This can cause the hatchlings to use precious energy wandering around on land and away from the ocean.
Our next step is called "nest sitting". This means we are out at the nest every night waiting for the hatchlings to emerge so we can make sure they all make it into the Gulf safely. Once the hatchlings reach the water their crawling is replaced by a "swim frenzy". Sometimes they may be thrown back ashore by strong waves, but they are persistent and eventually make it into the Gulf. This "swim frenzy" may last for several days and is designed to carry the hatchlings to open ocean currents that serve as nursery grounds.
Sea turtles face many threats to their survival. The hatchlings have to make their way through a gauntlet of predator fishes and seabirds once they reach the ocean. As they grow they continue to face challenges such as trawl and longline fishing, marine debris and pollution, artificial lighting and coastal building. It may take an additional 15-30 years after the hatchling leaves its high seas nursery habitat to become an mature adult sea turtle.
Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Patrol
Everyone has a role to play in sea turtle conservation. If you would like to help sea turtles survive here are some simple things you can do while visiting Navarre Beach.
Please turn off outside lights and pull curtains during May - October. Female sea turtles coming ashore to nest can become disoriented by lights.
If you are on the beach at night and a sea turtle is nesting please don't shine a light on her. Stay quiet and move around slowly, if possible stay behind the turtle so you do not disturb her. Be respectful and wait until she is done nesting before taking pictures, they are easily frightened. Flash photography will temporarily blind the turtle and complicate her return to the Gulf.
Litter is dangerous, especially plastic bags and balloons which can be mistaken for jellyfish-a favorite turtle food. Please take everything with you when you leave the beach and dispose of it properly.
Please don't leave lounge chairs, rubber floats, or other beach items that would cause an obstruction on the beach at night. Obstacles can prevent a sea turtle from nesting.
Digging deep holes in the sand is fun, but please fill them in when you leave. Nesting sea turtles fall into these holes at night and can't escape. We find them during our morning patrols, they are tired and dehydrated from trying to free themselves and get back to the ocean. We usually have to put them on a tarp and pull them into the water.
Notify authorities if you see any of the following: a turtle on the beach, a turtle nest, an injured or dead turtle. Please call 850-981-8888 or the Florida Wildlife Commission Hotline 888-404-3922.
Thank you for caring about sea turtles. During sea turtle season we will send updates when a nest is found and will keep you informed as the hatching time gets closer. We hope that during your visit you will be able to witness one of these amazing hatching events.
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