Turtle hatching season
Each summer, April to September, Florida beaches host the largest gathering of nesting sea turtles in the U.S. Sea turtles once roamed the oceans by the millions but over the past few centuries, the demand for sea turtle meat, eggs, shell, leather, oil and loss of habitat due to urban development along the coasts have greatly reduced their numbers.
Sea turtles lay large numbers of eggs (50-200 eggs per clutch, 6-7 clutches per mating season), but this is necessary because very few hatchlings survive to adulthood. Upon hatching, a nest of sea turtles travel en masse to the open ocean, making them an easy target for predators. Also, sea turtles, depending on the species, take anywhere from 6-50 years to reach sexual maturity, and most females do not breed every year. For these reasons, those females that do live long enough to reach sexual maturity must produce large numbers of eggs to sustain the population.
Another important part of sea turtle reproduction is the selection of a nesting site. After mating in near-shore waters, females store sperm for several weeks and lay their eggs on warm, sandy beaches. However, the selection of a nesting beach is not random but instead depends on several factors. First, sea turtles tend to build nests in the general region where they were born. Additionally, sea turtles show a high degree of accuracy in returning to previous nesting grounds year after year. Considering that some sea turtles migrate up to 11,000 km per year, this nest specificity is quite a feat.
After about 2 months of incubation, sea turtle eggs hatch at night. Disorientation from artificial lighting causes thousands of hatchling deaths each year in Florida and is a significant marine turtle conservation problem.
Sea turtle hatchlings have an inborn tendency to move in the brightest direction. On a natural beach, the brightest direction is most often the open view of the night sky over, and reflected by, the ocean. Hatchlings that crawl toward artificial light sources are following the same instinctive response that leads them seaward on naturally lighted beaches.
The Sea Turtle Nesting and Relocation Program began after the completion of a comprehensive beach re-nourishment project 30 years ago when the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department instituted a new program to encourage the nesting of the loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles, three species which had not reproduced successfully on our beaches for decades.
Under the close supervision of Miami-Dade Parks’ Beach Operations staff, which runs the Turtle Program, the nesting rate has gone from 0 nest sites in 1979 to 363 in 2003. The staff also supervises all nesting activity along almost 20 miles of Atlantic beachfront, from beaches on Key Biscayne to Golden Beach, where there are nesting areas favored by these ancient creatures.
The Sea Turtle Nesting and Relocation Program released over 41,000 new baby loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles in 1998 making this one of the most efficient conservation efforts of its kind in Florida. This achievement is a victory over egg poaching by humans and animals, destruction of native habitat, and the constant disturbance of bright night lights which disorient the hatchlings and draw them to populated street areas, where they soon perish.
This summer you can help save these sea creatures by participating in turtle releases during the height of the hatching season. Since 1980, more than 537,134 endangered sea turtles have been hatched and released through the Miami-Dade Parks Sea Turtle Nesting and Relocation Program.
Haulover Beach Park
$5. 9 - 10 p.m. Tue. & Wed.
10800 Collins Ave., Miami Beach
Crandon Park Visitors’ and Nature Center
$5. 8:30 - 10 p.m. Fri. & Sat.
6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne
Please make reservations in the beginning of July for presentations and releases in July, August and September.
You can also help by:
Never approach turtles emerging from the sea or disturb or harass nesting turtles.
Watch out for disoriented hatchlings or turtles wandering on the road.
Be careful while boating to avoid collision with turtles.
When on or near the beach, keep outside lights off or minimized from May 1 - October 31