Each year, from April through September, female sea turtles make their way to Florida beaches to lay their eggs. Guided by instinct, they swim thousands of miles to nest on the very beach where they hatched years earlier. They make their way on shore to dig their nests, laying hundreds of eggs at a time. And barring hazardous conditions, such as hurricanes or other damaging interferences, about 60 days later the young turtles hatch and make their way to the sea.
Five sea turtle species are found in Florida waters: leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempi) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).
The largest of Florida's sea turtles is the endangered leatherback, which can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and grow to six feet long. The leathery skin gives them their common name. A relatively small number nest along Florida’s coasts, with the majority found in Palm Beach County.
Listed as threatened, the loggerhead sea turtle weighs up to 275 pounds and grows to 3 feet in length. It is the most common sea turtle found in Florida with more than 90 percent of the U.S. population nesting here – mostly along the east coast.
The endangered green turtle, named for its green body fat, weighs up to 350 pounds and is a little longer than three feet. Their nesting season begins around June. Nests have been recorded in most Florida coastal counties, though mostly along the lower southeast coast. Their nesting numbers have been steadily rising over the past few years – in 2009, 4,462 nests were recorded; last year the count was 36,195!
The most endangered and rarest of the sea turtles is the Kemp’s ridley. Rarely do they nest in Florida – only five nests have been recorded since 1989. Each year, a few endangered hawksbill nests are documented, mostly along the Keys and up to the Canaveral Seashore.
All of these sea turtles are protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and by the Marine Turtle Protection Act because of their declining numbers worldwide. There are simple precautions that those who live on and visit Florida's beaches can take to help ensure a successful nesting season, including:
·      Keep beaches free of barriers to nesting sea turtles, such as beach furniture, toys and sand castles.

·      Take your trash home with you.

·      Keep beaches dark – lights out or shielded by 9:00 p.m.

·      Keep off dunes and use designated beach walkovers or boardwalks.

·      Report injured or dead sea turtles or nesting disturbances by calling 888-404-3922 or on your mobile phone, *FWC or #FWC.


Kathalyn Gaither
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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