Sea turtle nesting season kicked off in Escambia County as of Sunday, May 1. Escambia County Natural Resources Management is encouraging the public to help protect coastal wildlife during the season.
During sea turtle nesting season, Escambia County Sea Turtle Conservation Program volunteers patrol the beach each morning looking for signs of nesting activity on both Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key to mark any nesting or hatching activity. Daily surveys ensure any nests laid in the night are protected and marked, allowing normal beach activities to continue. Volunteers and staff continue to check on nests during the incubation period, ensuring they remain undisturbed and remain on stand-by to assist with stranded animals and other turtle-related incidents. The nesting season will run through September, although late season nests can hatch as late as October. Learn more about the sea turtle conservation program here.
About sea turtles in Escambia County
Four species of sea turtle nest in Escambia County. The loggerhead and green sea turtles are the most common nesters, followed by the less common Kemp’s ridley and leatherback. Female turtles will be making their way onto the beaches through the early part of summer and may nest several times in a single season. After sixty days of incubation, the tiny hatchling turtles will emerge all at once under the cover of darkness and race to the Gulf of Mexico. The hatchlings will make their way to open water where there are fewer predators. After a few years of growing and feeding, they will return to the area as juveniles and sub-adults where they will continue to grow and feed until they are mature enough to mate and lay nests of their own. Juvenile and adult sea turtles can often be seen foraging in bays and sounds, including near local fishing piers and artificial reefs.
However, sea turtles are not the only summertime visitors. Several species of shorebirds nest on local beaches in the summer months, including the least tern, snowy plover and black skimmer. Shorebird nests are shallow scrapes in the sand, with extremely small, well-camouflaged eggs. Eggs will incubate for up to 30 days before the small, cotton ball-like chicks hatch. Parents will often sit on the eggs and with newly hatched chicks to protect them from predators and the hot Florida sun. Birds are easily disturbed by people and pets approaching too close.
Environmental Program Manager Mark Nicholas, who leads the sea turtle volunteer program, noted the importance of limiting light pollution and keeping the beaches clean to increase nesting success this summer.
“Summer is a busy tourist season and big crowds can have big impacts on sea turtles, shorebirds and other coastal wildlife," said Nicholas. "We encourage everyone who comes to the beach during this time to leave only footprints by removing all personal items from the beach each night and choosing a turtle-friendly red flashlight when walking the beach at night."
Help Protect Coastal Wildlife by Remembering:
Lights Out: Bright lights can disturb nesting sea turtles and disorient both adults and hatchlings on the beach. When visiting the beach after dark, keep cell phones and flashlights off. Use a red flashlight or no light at all. For beachfront homes, turn off exterior lights when not in use and keep blinds and curtains shut after sunset.
Leave Only Footprints: Help keep the beaches obstacle free for nesting and hatchling turtles. All personal items, including chairs, tents, umbrellas, toys, and water equipment, must be removed from the beach by sunset each day. Make sure to fill in holes and flatten any sandcastles.
Share the Beach: Stay out of posted nesting areas and avoid setting up belongings on the edges of marked areas. Avoid disturbing birds resting on the beach and if you see a nesting sea turtle, give it space. Do not handle sea turtle or shorebird eggs and hatchlings. Dogs are only allowed in designated beach dog parks and must be kept on a leash at all times.
For more information about sea turtles and other coastal wildlife in Escambia County, check out MyEscambia.com/seaturtles or follow the Escambia County Natural Resources Management Department on Facebook at @ECNaturalResourcesManagement.
Dead or injured sea turtles and marine life should be reported to Escambia County Marine Resources at (850) 426-1257 or the FWC Wildlife Alert line at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). All sea turtle work is performed under Marine Turtle Permits #032 and #202.