The Turtles are Hatching
Text/Photo by Donna Malloy
This turtle restraining cage, located near 15th Avenue, Indian Rocks Beach, temporarily housed 97 hatchlings before they were safely lead to the Gulf of Mexico by trained volunteers.
Lights out after dark please. From May through August, during the cover of night, the female loggerhead turtle instinctively heads to shore and lays up to 120 soft, white eggs in a three foot cavity she has skillfully prepared. It’s not an easy feat to pull her pregnant, 350 pound body through the soft sand, lay her eggs and then return to the sea, all in one night. But that she will do, repeating this process four to five times during one nesting season.
“Due to development on our beaches,” after a loggerhead turtle nest is identified, it is covered with a “restraining cage” according to Jeni Hatter, Director of Media Relations for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). Restrained, the hatchlings are protected from predators and also from “disorientation by outside lights,” which causes them, upon hatching, to head toward the artificial light vs. the water.
Early each morning, volunteers from CMA’s Sea Turtle Nesting Program check each cage for hatchlings. If there are any hatchlings in the restraining cage, the volunteers will safely deliver them to the Gulf of Mexico. This sunrise vigilance will continue until the last day of hatching season; the end of October. If you notice any hatchling that has become disoriented, please call the Sea Turtle Nesting Program at 727-441-1790, extension 224 and give them the location. A volunteer will be contacted to aid the hatchling before it becomes dehydrated or possibly dies.
Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species and thus are protected under Florida Law, Chapter 370 and the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Chapter 370 warns that anyone who “takes possession, disturbs, sells or transfers this endangered species, upon conviction, faces up to 60 days imprisonment or fined up to $500, or both, for each turtle egg destroyed or taken.”
The U.S. Endangered Species Act declares that any person who “takes, harass, harms, pursues or captures an endangered species” can be charged in either civil or criminal court. Upon conviction, “maximum fines in civil court up to $25,000 or criminal penalties up to $100,000 and one year imprisonment” may be imposed.
To date, eighty-five turtle nests have been located in Pinellas County, from the northern tip of Clearwater Beach to southern Pass-a-Grille beach. That’s more than “double from last year, when only thirty-eight turtle nests were recorded” according to Abby Stone, Head Trainer for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. “We’re hoping for 100 nests this year,” stated Hatter.
That’s still below the 200 nests recorded in Pinellas County in previous years. Overall, loggerhead turtle nests have declined 40 percent in the seven year period ending in 2005, as documented by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
One of the loggerhead turtle nests located at Pass-a-Grille beach was the first nest to hatch this year. On July 15th, the sandy nest that had been incubating the soft turtle eggs for the past 60 days successfully yielded 82, three-inch long hatchlings.
So remember, from now until the end of October; turn off any unnecessary lights that may distract the hatchlings on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Do not harass the female turtle as she makes her way back to the sea after laying her eggs; she’s tired, so give her some space.
Do not pick up hatchlings and head toward the water but do call CMA. CMA also has an “Adopt a Nest” program “to help protect sea turtle nests on the beach.” Please call them at 727-441- 1790, extension 224 or www.CMAquarium.org for further information.
Return to Current Edition