By: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds beachgoers how to help protect vulnerable nesting sea turtles and waterbirds while visiting Florida’s coastal habitats.
Each spring and summer, thousands of sea turtles, shorebirds and seabirds nest on Florida’s beaches. Because our state’s shorelines are critical for sea turtle and waterbird nesting, beachgoers can make a big difference in helping them.
Biologists note that some of the most important things people can do to help nesting sea turtles and waterbirds are to give them space, minimize disturbances and keep beaches clean and dark.
Keep your distance! Getting too close (50 feet or less) to nesting sea turtles can cause them to leave the beach before they complete nesting. Remember, it is illegal to harm or disturb nesting sea turtles and their nests, eggs and hatchlings. Not keeping enough space from nesting shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds can cause them to flush from their breeding sites, leaving vulnerable eggs and chicks exposed to the elements and predators. Egg temperatures can increase to lethal levels after just a few minutes of direct sun exposure. Shorebirds and seabirds nest in shallow scrapes in the sand and their eggs and chicks are well-camouflaged, making them vulnerable to being stepped on unless people look out for them and avoid walking though flocks of birds. As a general rule, it is best to keep at least 300 feet from nesting birds and to avoid walking through flocks of birds or entering posted areas.
Stash the trash! Obstacles on the beach can prevent sea turtles from nesting as they crawl from the water, across the sand, to lay their eggs. Trash and other obstacles can also prevent sea turtle hatchlings from reaching the water once they emerge from their nests. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, that can prey on sea turtle hatchlings, shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle sea turtles, birds and other wildlife. Beachgoers can help our native wildlife by properly disposing of all trash, filling in human-made holes in the sand, and removing boats, beach toys and furniture from the beach before sunset. Fishing line can be deadly to sea turtles, waterbirds and other wildlife, so be sure to dispose of it properly. To find a monofilament recycling station near you, visit mrrp.MyFWC.com.
Lights out! Any lighting can misdirect and disturb nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings, leading them away from the ocean and toward potential danger, so beachgoers should avoid using flashlights or cellphones on the beach at night. Anyone living along or visiting Florida beaches can do their part by turning out lights or closing curtains after dark to ensure nesting turtles are not disturbed as they come ashore, and hatchlings will not become disoriented when they emerge from their nests. If lighting could still be visible from the beach, be sure it is long, low and shielded.
Sea turtles typically return to nest in March along Florida’s southeast Atlantic coast from Brevard County south to Broward County, while nesting begins on Gulf Coast or north Florida beaches in April or May. Around this same time, many shorebird and seabird species nest directly on beaches across the state where their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged in the sand. Colonies of wading birds, such as herons, will typically nest on mangrove islands off the coast.
For more information about nesting sea turtles and how you can help, visit MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle or see the FWC’s “Be a Beach Hero” brochure. Other ways to help sea turtles include reporting those that are sick, injured, entangled or dead to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
For more information about nesting waterbirds, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Or go to the Florida Shorebird Alliance website at FLShorebirdAlliance.org to learn more about how to participate in shorebird and seabird conservation efforts.