As beachgoers flock back to the shore after COVID-19 closures, they need to keep more than social distancing precautions in mind.
Navarre Beach’s sea turtle nesting season officially started May 1, meaning four species of these endangered reptiles will be coming ashore at night to lay their eggs.
Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center founder Cathy Holmes said they have not yet had any nests, but the season is still very early. Neighboring beaches have had false crawls, meaning a female came ashore but did not nest.
“We are trying to get as much education out there as we can. On Navarre Beach, I think it is going to be business as usual this season,” Holmes said.
Sea turtles nest under very specific conditions. Light and sound at night can be disorienting to the turtles that spend nearly their entire lives under water. Last year, beachgoers with bright flashlights along the shoreline are believed to have contributed to a decline in nesting.
To help people better understand their potential impact on the turtles, the NBSTCC has launched an education effort “6 Ways to be a Sea Turtle Hero.”
When leaving at the end of the day, beachgoers can either leave a negative or positive impact on nesting turtles. The NBSTCC’s list emphasizes how to leave a positive impact, reminding visitors to:
• Knock down sandcastles and fill holes, leaving the sand flat for mother turtles
• Take all items off the beach each night including beach toys, tents, umbrellas, chairs and especially trash, leaving any item after sunset is a violation of county ordinance
• Turn out lights or use red light at night to keep from disorienting turtles
• Educate others on how they can help protect turtles
• Do not disrupt nest sites or nesting turtles, it is against federal and state law
“Make it so that when you are off the beach, it looks like you were never there,” Holmes summed up.
Fishermen taking advantage of the longest pier in the Gulf of Mexico can also help protect turtles. During nesting season, turtles tend to gather around the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, and that can lead to them being accidentally hooked.
“A lot of these turtles that are hooked could be potentially nesting females,” Holmes said.
If that happens, fishermen can call the number posted along the length of the pier, and members of the Navarre Beach Responsible Pier Initiative will come to assist in retrieving the turtle and provide any needed medical care. Cutting the line is not advised as it can put the turtle at greater risk of entanglement.
Sea turtle nesting season also means a rare opportunity: the chance to see a nesting turtle.
If beachgoers do see a turtle nesting, Holmes said they need to be cautious so as not to disturb her.
“It is very difficult for people because it is exciting,” she said. “If you are on the beach with your family, and see a turtle nesting, it can be hard to remember to turn off your light and stay back and be quiet.”
If a nesting turtle is spotted, onlookers should turn off all lights, be quiet and remain a distance away from the turtle, out of her line of sight. This ensures she feels comfortable to continue nesting, helping carry on her species.
“Seeing a turtle nest, I believe it changes their whole perspective on conservation and ecosystems,” Holmes said. “It can be a once in a lifetime experience.”