Sea Turtle Nesting Season

Learn fascinating facts about sea turtles along the Gulf Coast, as well as how you can help protect them.

A tiny loggerhead sea turtle hatchling leaves tracks in the sand as it crawls to the Gulf.

A tiny loggerhead sea turtle hatchling leaves tracks in the sand as it crawls to the Gulf.

With our warm weather and sunny skies all year, Florida seems like endless summer. But we do have seasons! In fact, summer and fall represent one of Florida’s most important times of year: sea turtle nesting season. Along our Gulf shoreline in St. Pete-Clearwater and around the state, mother sea turtles lumber up our beaches by night and laboriously lay their cache of eggs in the summer months. Somewhere between 45 and 70 days later, the tiny sea turtle hatchlings scurry to the sea in a journey that is only the very beginning of their survival story. 

 

When is sea turtle season?

Typically, female sea turtles begin laying their nests along St. Pete-Clearwater's beaches around May 1, but this year, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has said that nesting season began early, around April 15. By October 31, most nests will have hatched and the season will be over.

 

How many types of sea turtles nest in St. Pete-Clearwater?

Of the seven global sea turtle species, four species nest on beaches in St. Pete-Clearwater. The most common species, the loggerhead turtle, grows up to 3.5 feet long and weighs up to 300 pounds. Green turtles are also fairly common on our beaches. The Kemps Ridley is both the smallest sea turtle species, and the most endangered, and it's quite rare when one nests on our beaches. The leatherback sea turtle, a giant of up to 7 feet and 2,000 pounds, is also an occasional visitor.

 

four wooden posts with yellow caution tape mark off a sea turtle nest on the beach

Sea turtle nests are marked on our beaches. Use caution around them.

How do sea turtles build their nests?

Using their flippers and back legs, mother turtles slowly make their way to soft sand away from the waterline, leaving tracks that look similar to tractor tires. It can take more than an hour for them to dig a hole with their flippers before they lay 70 to 100 leathery, Ping-Pong-sized eggs, and then cover up the eggs with sand. This typically happens at night or in the early morning hours. In one season, a single female turtle may lay up to five nests, usually in the same approximate area.

 

When do baby sea turtles hatch?

Hatchlings begin digging their way out of the sandy nest in mid- to late June and continue through October. Nests usually "erupt" at night, so few people witness the miracle of what looks like tiny turtles boiling out of the nest and crawling to the sea. Local organizations like Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) patrol 21 miles of St. Pete-Clearwater beaches to inventory the nests, fence the nests against predators like raccoons and coyotes, and check hatched nests to rescue babies who were unable to make it out on their own. It's important that you never interfere with a turtle nest, mother turtle or hatchlings in any way, as they are federally protected.

Once female sea turtles grow to maturity, they return to that same beach to lay their own nests. 

 

What determines the sex of the baby sea turtles?

The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the baby turtles. Cool dudes, hot chicks, wildlife experts like to say. As global warming affects our planet, rising temperatures may have an effect on sea turtle populations, with more females than males being born.

 

What dangers do sea turtles face?

In addition to hungry creatures that may dig into nests to eat the eggs, sea turtles face a host of other dangers.

Birds can pick off baby turtles while they are en route to the water and marine animals eat them, too. In fact, only an estimated 1 out of 1,000 turtles make it to adulthood.

Sea turtles of all ages are subject to injury and death from debris in the water. A plastic bag, for instance, looks like a jellyfish to a sea turtle – one of its favorite foods. They may also ingest plastic bottles, straws and other products that can hurt or kill them.

Nesting sea turtles struggle with hurdles as they make their way up the beach – including lawn chairs, fishing gear, holes dug in the sand, and even sandcastles. Both adult and baby sea turtles can become disoriented by lights on the beach, which cause them to head away from the sea rather than toward it. 
 

three women with trash bags at a beach clean up

Participate in an organized beach clean-up or just pick up things you see on the beach!

How can you help sea turtle conservation efforts?

What is the best way to help protect sea turtles? Here are some ideas!

  • Help keep our local waterways and beaches free of plastic and other pollution. Discard your trash responsibly, not only at the shoreline but any time you are outdoors.
  • Remove monofilament fishing line from trees and water.
  • On the beach, remove all obstacles before you leave for the night, fill in holes, and level any sand structures that could get in the way of nesting turtles or hatchlings.
  • If you live or are staying at a Gulf-front hotel or vacation rental, close your curtains to prevent lights from disorienting the turtles.
  • If you are walking on the beach at dark, don't use flashlights or flash photography.
  • Leave nesting and hatching turtles alone: Never interfere with Mother Nature.
  • Educate yourself about sea turtle conservation. Visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) and its rehabilitating sea turtles. Attend its programs that teach visitors of all ages about sea turtles. Read more at pinellas.gov/sea-turtle-protection, and other worldwide sea turtle websites to learn how you can help.
  • Support CMA and other local organizations like Sea Turtle Trackers.
  • Report injured sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at (888) 404-3922.
     

 

About Our Writer

Chelle Walton is a veteran Florida travel writer who knows the Gulf Coast like the back of her hand. She's the author of 10 guidebooks, and has contributed to articles for VISITFLORIDA.com, USA Today, Gulfshore Life, Frommer's and many others. She lives in Sanibel, Florida.