loggerhead hatchling at night

Taking a hint from our article turtle vacations and activities, I took a vacation with my family with the not-so-secret intention to watch sea turtles nest & lay eggs and see little turtle hatchlings emerge and make their run to the ocean.

A Florida summer vacation is a great idea. Spend all day with the kids and family at the pool, zoo or where-ever, then spend hours at the beach at night waiting for sea turtles to emerge.

There are several things to remember when watching sea turtles on Florida beaches (and in other beaches too!):

For sea turtles going to the beach to lay eggs (I’ll explain these further in the future):

  • when walking the beach, walk by the water and not further away on the sand
  • when you spot a sea turtle, sit down, don’t move
  • no flash photos, no regular flashlights

For hatchlings emerging from nests:

  • don’t walk around, don’t step on them
  • no flash photos, no regular flashlights
  • only licensed individuals (and others assigned by a licensed individual) may pick up and handle sea turtle hatchlings

Sea Turtles and Light

Here’s a quick video that explains light issues with sea turtles:

Sea turtle volunteers

In my opinion, the best way to observe sea turtles hatch is to hang out with one of the many volunteers that observe and help sea turtle hatchlings. STOP (Sea Turtle Oversight Protection is the organization that does that in Broward County in South Florida. Be sure to check their website for more info and to support them.

Here’s a video from STOP that summarizes the 2010 season:

my experience

No need to contact any tour company or any specific group, office, or individual – at least in Broward County, South Florida. Just go out on the beach for lots of walking, lots of time waiting on the sand, lots of talk with sea turtle volunteers, tourists (you’ll be one of those 🙂 ) and others. I spent 1-3 hours every night for a week on the beach. I saw:

  • 1 green sea turtle lay eggs
  • 4 green sea turtles come up on the beach to lay, but got scared and turned back to the ocean
  • 10 loggerhead turtle hatchlings crawl on the beach and dash to the ocean by themselves
  • 5 loggerhead turtle hatchlings disorient with building lights, get collected in a bucket and released

Which means I saw a total of 20 sea turtles on the beach.

Something always happened every night, I missed most of them but other tourists and volunteers were always happy to share what happened. A sea turtle can come up to nest or hatchlings may start leaving a nest at anytime during the night so volunteers literally spent the whole night on the beach. Every night.

Anyhow, being able to see sea turtles on the beach (and not in an aquarium) makes all the time spent waiting worth it.

Here’s what I was able to capture with my camera (all the hatchlings are loggerheads):

Three sea turtle species lay eggs in South Florida and they are active on the beach from March to October. Loggerheads usually stop nesting in July, leatherbacks (very rare for the area, I believe there is only 1 recorded nest so far for 2011 and maybe 1 the previous year from what I heard) from May and June, and green sea turtles start at July. The latter part of the season are all hatchlings emerging.

Special thanks and shout-outs to Katie, Mary, Renee, and Mark. They are the wonderful STOP volunteers I met and got to talk to.