The natural environment around Naples, Florida and all along the Paradise Cost is the main attraction for visitors all year long. Sunsets on white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters keep people coming back over and over again. But humans aren’t the only summer visitors. From early May all the way through August, female Loggerhead sea turtles return to the beaches where they were born to lay nests of their own.
During the summer months, these mother turtles emerge from the Gulf of Mexico during the late night hours. They slowly plow their way through the sand and begin to hollow out a nest for their eggs. Once her nest is ready, a female Loggerhead will lay around 100 ping-pong ball sized eggs. Over the course of the night, she will cover the eggs to protect and hide them from harm, and then crawl slowly back out to sea. Mother turtles will lay 2 to 3 nests like this during a nesting season.
Each turtle nest will remain quiet for about two months as the baby turtles grow and mature. Then, as soon as the sand begins to cool in the evening, the little Loggerheads will struggle together to dig out of the sand that has been protecting them. Instinct drives them to follow the moonlight reflected on the water that will lead them to the sea. This event will happen over and over into October until all of the viable eggs have hatched. Of the thousands of hatchlings that begin this journey every year, only 1 in 1,000 will survive into adulthood. Many die of dehydration on their way across the beach to the open water. Others will be prey for birds, crabs, and other animals.
Many of the Naples area beaches including Bonita Beach, Tigertail Beach, Clam Pass Park, or Vanderbilt Beach Park could have turtle nests. If you are visiting Naples this summer, you may be lucky enough to see a turtle laying her nest or hatchlings making their way to the sea. But, remember that these are protected animals, and you should not interfere in any way with the natural process.
Here are some tips for turtle watching:
Go with a guided group. Agencies like the Collier County Department of Natural Resources have programs and opportunities to learn more about sea turtles in a way that will not endanger the mother or her hatchlings.
If you are watching a mother turtle, keep your distance. Remain very quiet. Don’t use any lights. This includes flashlights and camera flashes. Anything that could frighten or distract a female Loggerhead could cause her to return to the water before her nest is ready and release her eggs into the water.
If you are watching hatchlings, keep your distance. Keep all lights off. Leave them in their nest, and allow them to crawl to the water on their own.
If you see a mother turtle in distress or baby turtles wandering in the road, parking lot, or someplace other than toward the water, do not touch them. Contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Visitors staying in properties on the beach front, should turn outside lights off at night as the light confuses baby turtles. When your day at the beach is over remember to fill in any holes dug on the beach before you leave, this will ensure that the hatchlings have a clear path through the sand and help them make it safely to the Gulf waters.
Watching sea turtles can be an amazing experience for the whole family. Following the guidelines above will ensure that many families will enjoy the experience for years to come.