Whether you’re a seasoned South Florida beachcomber or a relative newcomer to coastal Palm Beach County, consider this either a timely reminder or a heads-up to one of the marvels Mother Nature is kind enough to let us witness every year.
Sea turtle nesting season officially began March 1. Those endangered prehistoric creatures will make their way out of the Atlantic and onto our beaches to lay their eggs.
Staff and volunteers from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton patrol five beachfront miles from Highland Beach to the Broward County line. By Feb. 28, two nests had already been identified, according to Kirt Rusenko, who heads the center’s sea turtle program.
The average female will lay at least 100 eggs per nest, A dedicated female can create up to seven nests per season, laying approximately 1,000 eggs total, said Rusenko.
Sadly, only one of those eggs will see adulthood.
This is due partly to natural predators such as foxes and raccoons, which feast on the eggs.
Once the hatchlings emerge, starting in late May, they encounter hungry birds as they make their way to the ocean. The ones lucky enough to reach the water encounter more predators.
But the largest threat to these babies is the result of human activity, and most of it is preventable.
“Do not feed wild animals,” said Rusenko. And do not build bonfires on the beach. “The hatchlings will actually go into the fire because they are looking for the lightest horizon.”
Sea turtles are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, Florida Statute Chapter 370, and the Palm Beach County Sea Turtle Protection Ordinance. Laws also are in place requiring beachfront property owners to alter their outdoor lighting to be sea turtle friendly.
At Boca Raton Resort and Club, sea turtle season marks a change in not only beachfront lighting, but also in the arrangement of the beach furniture, said Karrol-Jo Foster, executive office manager at the resort’s Boca Beach Club.
“We definitely set our beach up differently during turtle season,” said Foster. “We gear our activities around what we can and can’t do during the turtle season and we work in coordination with Gumbo Limbo.”
Signs are posted on the beach and staff offers information about sea turtle season to their guests.
The same goes at the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach in Manalapan, where they work closely with Lantana lifeguards who are certified to inspect and identify sea turtle nests, according to Mike Bigerton, the resort’s director of engineering.
“(Our) duty is to inform our guests, as we set up their beach lounges, to stay 10 feet from the posted nest. Plus, we tell guests that digging in the sand is not permitted. This information is also noted in our in-room newsletter,” he said.
Additionally, all of the hotel’s windows are tinted to an approved color level. While they are permitted to clean and hand rake the restricted part of the beach, mechanical raking of the beach is permitted in certain areas only after the beach has been inspected and nests are clearly marked.
Rusenko applauds the cooperation he sees among beachfront property owners.
“Ninety nine percent of the time, once (people) what know the right thing to do is, they
do it,” he said.
Dos and don’ts for nesting season
Here’s a list of dos and don’ts for nesting season, according to the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s Kirt Rusenko and the Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management:
• Do not carry a flashlight on the beach or build a fire;
• If you see a nesting sea turtle, do not run up to it. Watch from a safe distance behind the turtle and let nature run its course;
• If you dig a large hole in the sand, fill it up before you leave. Mother sea turtles have become trapped and died in unfilled holes;
• Pedestrians and drivers should look out for disoriented hatchlings on trails and roads near the beach. If a hatchling seems weak and confused, call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission toll-free at 888-404-FWCC.