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Sea Turtles in the Florida Panhandle

Sea Turtles in the Florida Panhandle

 

Florida has the highest number of sea turtles of any state in the continental US. Three species are common here including loggerhead, green and leatherback turtles. The Federal Endangered Species Act lists all of sea turtles in Florida as either threatened or endangered.

Sea turtle nesting season for the area began May 1, 2016. Adult females only nest every 2-3 years. At 20-35 years old, adult loggerhead and green female turtles return to the beach of their birth to nest. At this age, they are about 3 feet long and 250-300 pounds. The turtles will lay their eggs from May – September, with 50-150 baby turtles hatching after 45-60 days, usually at night. One female may nest several times in one season.

If you happen to see a sea turtle nesting, or nest hatching, stay very quiet, keep your distance, and turn any lights off (no flash photography). You should never try to touch a wild sea turtle. Also, do not touch or move any hatchlings. The small turtles need to crawl on the beach in order to imprint their birth beach on their memory.

During nesting season, it is important to keep the beaches Clean, Dark and Flat. Clean, by removing everything you brought to the beach including trash, food, chairs and toys; dark, by keeping lights off, using sea turtle friendly lighting and red LED flashlights if necessary; and flat, filling up all holes and knocking down sand castles before leaving the beach. If you see anyone harassing a sea turtle or a sea turtle in distress for any reason, do not hesitate to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922.

There has been encouraging sea turtle news in Florida as a result of the conservation actions being undertaken. There is an increasing number of green turtle nests and a decreasing number of dead turtles found on beaches.

If you want to see a sea turtle and learn more about these fascinating creatures, visit the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center, Navarre, FL, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island, Fort Walton Beach, FL, or Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City, FL.

 

County Beach nesting area (miles) Number of loggerhead sea turtle nests Number of green sea turtle nests Number of leatherback sea turtle nests
Franklin 56 608 14 0
Gulf 29 451 14 0
Bay 44 170 12 5
Walton 30 94 4 3
Okaloosa 24 73 6 0
Santa Rosa 7 17 4 0
Escambia 39 86 4 1

Table 1: Data from the 2015 Florida Statewide Nesting Beach Survey available at: www.myfwc.com.

 

 

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Molly O'Connor

Young loggerhead sea turtle heading for the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Molly O’Connor

 

 

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Author: Laura Tiu – lgtiu@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent – Okaloosa and Walton Counties

Panhandle Outdoors

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/blog/2016/05/08/sea-turtles-in-the-florida-panhandle/