Sea turtle hatchlings are digging out of their nests and clambering toward the ocean in September and October, the last months of Florida’s sea turtle nesting season.
Well-meaning efforts to rescue a sea turtle hatchling by helping it leave a nest or picking it up and placing it in the ocean are not good ideas, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists.
Worse yet, are instances where hatchlings are being handled by people who think it’s O.K. to get that close, often because they want to take a photo.
“Some Florida beachgoers are unaware that sea turtle hatchings should be watched from a distance and left undisturbed,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who leads the FWC’s sea turtle management program. “Even well-meaning attempts to rescue sea turtle hatchlings can do more harm than good. And digging into a sea turtle nest, entering a posted area, or picking up a sea turtle hatchling to take a photo also are against the law.”
Hatchlings must overcome many obstacles to survive. Digging out of their nests may take a few days. Once out, they are vulnerable to predators. And any misdirection on their path to the sea – from artificial lighting to items left on the beach, holes in the sand or people approaching or handling them – may leave them exhausted, lost or dehydrated on the beach in the morning sun.
“So please remember to keep your hands off sea turtle hatchlings and tell others to do the same,” Trindell said. “The best way to help hatchings is to turn off any artificial lighting on the beach at night or at least keep it shielded. If you see hatchlings, watch from a distance and never shoot flash photos.”
Bright lights on houses, motels, condominiums and businesses along the beach can disorient nesting adult females, but are particularly harmful to turtle hatchlings. The hatchlings will head for the bright lights, thinking they are the sparkling sea. They can end up walking landward and are more likely to become prey for animals like coyotes.
Just remember, “Hands off!” is the best policy for beachgoers encountering sea turtle hatchings.
People are asked to call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC or #FWC on a cellphone, to report hatchlings that are stranded, wandering in a road or parking lot, heading away from the water or are dead.
Photo credit: FWC