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Turtle Watch

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 12, 2009
  • Longboat Key
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It’s a tough life out there for newly hatched baby sea turtles. Once they hatch, in about 60 to 65 days, the difficulties of crawling to the Gulf waters are many. Birds or animals (or even humans, sometimes) will snatch them on their way to the fulfillment of their life span.

One of the major problems is inappropriate lighting (including flashlights and flash bulbs). These lights misdirect the hatchlings onto highways and parking lots instead of the moonlit waters where they will, hopefully, grow and mature until it’s time for the female (at 30 years) to come back to the beach where she was born and lay her own eggs.

Artificial lighting from streetlights, unshielded window lights from beach residents, etc. are killers for these precious new bits of life. And, besides, there are lighting ordinances to direct folks as to what’s OK and what’s not.

This all brings back interesting memories to me. I can hardly believe that it’s more than 30 years since I first came here and became involved in sea-turtle conservation, thanks to friend and former Longboat Mayor Kit Fernald and Mote Marine Laboratory. As a matter of fact, Longboat Key was one of the first communities to pass a beach-lighting ordinance to help the sea turtles.

The town commissioners were split, half for and half against. The swing vote was by a man who was also a Mote volunteer, and once I pointed that out to him, his vote carried the ordinance. It was a major victory for turtles and turtle watchers.

Unfortunately, every so often, we have to re-educate the public. This year has been particularly bad, with volunteers counting about 2,000 hatchlings, so far, headed the wrong way. We can do better.

Everyone wants to be helpful, but, because these are endangered animals, only permitted volunteers should ever be hands-on. For instance, a group of well-meaning people spotted a female come onto the beach one night to make her nest, cover it over with sand and leave. The beachgoers sought to mark the nest but in the process blotted out the turtle tracks with their own footprints and, as a result, the nest location was never found! It’s better to just call Mote or qualified volunteers with nest location information.

But we do have a wonderful rescue story to tell. Some swimmers spotted a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle having a problem July 14 on a sandbar off Lido Key. They called Mote, which came to the rescue and found that some fishing line hanging out of the turtle’s mouth was attached to a balloon inside the animal. Turtles frequently ingest balloons thinking they are jellyfish, which they love to eat. So, be careful to put trash in trash containers and, if you see trash washing up on shore, pick it up and dispose of it before it washes out to sea again. The Kemp’s ridley is the smallest and most rare of the sea turtles, so we wish it a speedy recovery and return to the ocean.

If you want to learn more about the turtle-nesting process, plan to attend one of the many nest openings open to the public. These are posted at The UPS Store in the Centre Shops and in The Longboat Observer.

Thank you for helping with improper beach lighting and for monitoring for trash on the beach!

Virginia Sanders is the spokesperson for the Longboat Key Turtle Conservation Program, serves on the Citizens Advisory Board of the National Estuary Program and is a Mote Marine volunteer.


On its Web site,, Mote Marine Laboratory lists rules to follow during turtle-nest season, which runs from May 1 to Oct. 31. These tips will help nesting turtles and their hatchlings.

• If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
• Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
• Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
• Place trash in its proper place.

Do Not:

• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
• Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged.
• Use fireworks on the beach.



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