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Watch for sea turtles on Tampa Bay area beaches

Residents and owners of beachfront properties are reminded of the “lights out” ban as the first group of sea turtle hatchlings is expected to make its way to shore in a few weeks.

Some of the first sea turtle eggs are expected to hatch in early July.

The 2016 Turtle Nesting Season officially began on May 1. Sea turtle eggs typically take just under two months to hatch. Most of the Pinellas County beach communities have ordinances in place prohibiting lighting that casts glare onto the beach during turtle nesting season, which ends on Oct. 31.

Florida’s beaches are essential for nesting loggerheads. The Pinellas County beachfront area averages about 120 nests per season and each nest can contain, on average, 100 to 110 eggs. The last nest is expected to hatch by the end of October.

This year, sea turtle nests have already faced challenges. Rangers at Fort De Soto Park have discovered at least 13 sea turtle nests in the park, two of which were damaged by Tropical Storm Colin earlier this month. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials believe several hundred sea turtle nests statewide were destroyed or impacted by the storm.

Each May and July, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium conducts a beach lighting survey to identify problem lighting that may not be in compliance with turtle protection ordinances. Properties with lights shining on the beach at night are reported to Pinellas County Coastal Management and the local code enforcement agency.

While conducting the lighting surveys, the aquarium staff provides educational posters and brochures to visitors and residents explaining the “lights out” policy during nesting and hatching season.

The aquarium monitors nearly 26 miles of coastline and reports on sea turtle nesting activity. The staff engages in early morning patrols to locate new nesting sites and late night patrols to check existing nests for hatchlings. They also watch the nests from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to make sure that hatchlings make it to the water safely.

In addition to checking the beaches every morning for signs of nests, the aquarium marks the nests and accounts for false crawls – times when the female that comes ashore does not complete her nest. Successful nests are roped off to avoid human disturbance. As an endangered species, loggerhead turtles are protected under federal law. and bothering their nests is illegal.

By obeying the law and following some simple guidelines, residents and visitors can greatly improve the chances of sea turtle survival, while being given the opportunity to experience first-hand the wonder of their life cycle.

If residents encounter a turtle, eggs or hatchlings; they should:

  • Turn off outside lights, draw drapes and avoid using flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. Turtle nesting season runs from May 1 to Oct. 31.
  • Do not approach or harass adult turtles as they make their way back to sea. If residents spot turtle tracks or what might be a nest, and it does not appear to be protected by stakes or ribbon, call the Clearwater Marina Aquarium at (727) 441-1790, ext. 224.
  • Do not pick up hatchlings heading toward the water, shine lights or use photo equipment with a flash. Hatchlings use starlight and moonlight reflecting off the water to find their way to the ocean, and if they become misled by artificial light, they can become disoriented and die.