The first sea turtle nest of the 2018 season was found and marked May 9, 2018 on Amelia Island, FL. Beach monitoring (searching at sunrise for turtle tracks, evidence of a nest), is done by a large group of local, dedicated volunteers, the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch. About eight miles of shoreline is monitored by this group. After the eggs have hatched and hatchlings have emerged from the nest, the site is excavated (crowds gather to watch). Learn more about when to see these turtle digs further below.
When is Sea Turtle Nesting Season?
Each year, sea turtle nesting season in northeast Florida is May 1st through October 31st.
Female sea turtles come ashore to this barrier island during the night and almost always return back to the sea before sunrise. Early morning beachcombers sometimes discover turtle tracks in the sand. On rare occasions, a female sea turtle may be spotted on the beach. If you happen upon one, please stay a good distance from the nesting turtle (and don’t use flash photography). Florida’s beaches elsewhere are also monitored for nesting activity (watch educational video further below).
When Can I Watch Nest Excavation?
The public has opportunity to attend some of the excavations. These turtle digs are narrated by the volunteer and very educational for the young and old alike, a great coastal nature experience worth attending.
Sea turtle nest excavations typically begin around mid-July. During an active year with lots of nests, excavations can be fairly frequent events on Amelia Island through September. Volunteers excavate sea turtle nests after a 50 to 60 day monitoring period, when it has been determined that a sea turtle nest has hatched and emerged (as evidenced by tiny hatchling tracks in the sand from a nest hollow). The eggs hatch one to three days before “emergence.” The tiny baby turtles typically leave the nest as a group (called an eruption), and head to the sea. The Sea Turtle Watch digs into the nest three days after the babies have emerged.
Why Are Turtle Nests Excavated?
The digs are for research purposes, to take an inventory of each nest’s success (or failure), by counting and recording data such as how many empty egg shells, any unhatched eggs. Plus, whether any living hatchlings remain in the nest cavity, unable to emerge on their own naturally. These tiny turtles are then released to the sea as bystanders watch.
Will I See Baby Turtles in Nest?
Not always. However, sometimes one or more “live” hatchlings don’t make it out of the nest on their own, left behind to be discovered by volunteers during excavation. For onlookers observing the excavation, this is the moment the crowd “oohs and ahhs” with the happy discovery of tiny newborns.
“Against All Odds”
The odds of sea turtle survival is daunting. Very few sea turtle hatchlings will survive into maturity. Natural and man-made hazards abound, both onshore and in the sea. Reportedly only 1% to 3% of sea turtle hatchlings will survive into adulthood, according to scientific estimates.
Watch this short, informative video interview to learn more about Florida’s sea turtle research nesting program, featuring a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, produced by Jacksonville University.
The turtle digs take place in the evenings around 7 pm, or early in the morning around 7 am. To learn the actual dates of summertime nest excavations, one must check the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch website frequently (beginning around mid-July into September). Typically, an excavation is announced two or three days in advance.
While the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch used to actively publish online nest locations (and put the dates they found the nest on the beach stakes marking it), a few nests were reportedly poached in 2016. So public posting of this information has changed to protect the nests from bad actors.
What Kind of Sea Turtles?
By far, the majority of nests are loggerheads. Sometimes several green turtle nests are found. More rare on local beaches, a leatherback arrives — the largest type of sea turtle. UPDATE: The reported nest count so far this season through July 8, 2018 is 107, including two leatherback nests!
Beach Etiquette, Help The Sea Turtles!
Beachgoers need to be respectful of the marked nests along the shoreline. If you dig holes in the sand while playing at the beach, please fill them in before departing, and flatten large sand castles. Please pick up your trash!
Leave Nothing on Beach After 8 PM!
Please follow the golden rule of “carry on, carry off,” or risk losing your stuff! Umbrellas, shelters, beach chairs, etc. left on the beach after 8 pm will be picked up (see more about beach ordinance). Realize that plastic bags thrown away, balloons released (that eventually end up deflated in the sea), and fishing line are especially dangerous to sea turtles. If you are walking the beach at night or around sunrise and happen upon a nesting turtle, keep a distance behind her, don’t shine a flashlight at the turtle or use flash photography.
Vacationers & Beachfront Property Owners
Nighttime lighting along the shoreline — light pollution — can disorient sea turtles. Please close curtains and shades in ocean-facing rooms along the beachfront at night. Local beach ordinances restrict outdoor lighting in the evening during sea turtle nesting season. See the city of Fernandina’s “Sea Turtle Lighting and Beach-Friendly Tips” web page. Also see more about Nassau County, Florida’s code “Section 37.07. – Beachfront lighting restrictions for the protection of sea turtles”
Who To Call?
If you think you’ve found a struggling or stranded sea turtle (or disoriented sea turtle hatchlings), contact the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch at 904-583-1913. Or call FWCC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922).