It is sea turtle nesting season along Florida's shores, as green, leatherback, loggerhead and Kemps-Ridley turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, usually returning as close as possible to their own birthplaces to lay them. The season lasts until the end of October.
This time of year presents an unforgettable opportunity for visitors to the Sunshine State to both watch the nesting ritual take place and to see the adorable hatchlings make their way from the nest to the surf.
"Sea turtles nest all up the Atlantic coast, as far as North Carolina, but Florida seems to be their favorite because of the warmer temperatures," said Julie Moore, a senior aquarist at SeaWorld Orlando who specializes in sea turtles. "In order for sea turtles to nest, the conditions have to be just right, between the temperature of the water and the sand as well as the feeling the sea turtles get as to how safe the area is for their eggs."
According to Moore, several spots see more nesting than others, including the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, just east of Orlando, and the shores of Juno Beach, directly north of Palm Beach. "Those are the most popular areas, but sea turtles nest all along the Florida coast, from Jacksonville down to South Florida and then up the Gulf coast to the panhandle," she said.
June and July are the most popular times for guests to observe nesting season, as it's possible to both see female turtles make the nest as well as watch hatchlings emerge from their sandy nursery and make their way to the waves.
Clients can expect the full nesting ritual to take about an hour from the time the female sea turtle emerges from the waves, but the best way to see nesting season is on an evening "turtle walk" with one of the education and conservation organizations in the state. On the turtle walk, which usually starts around sundown and can continue until midnight, a patrol will drive along the beach and check to see if any turtles have come to nest. If a sea turtle is spotted, the patrol will alert the turtle walk guide and the group as to where they can go to watch the nesting process.
Moore recommends these turtle walks: Canaveral National Seashore, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indiatlantic (just south of Melbourne), and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center in Juno Beach. The latter even has a hatchling release program so clients can assist rescued hatchlings returning to the ocean after rehabilitation.
There are some ground rules to explain to clients, including the prohibition of flashlights and flash photography, which can disrupt the nesting ritual. Most hotels and parks in the area have sea turtle-friendly lighting they use during nesting season. It's also important to stay as far away as possible while the nesting ritual is in progress, as a turtle can feel threatened and abandon the effort.
Some hotels on Florida's Atlantic coast have made it easy for clients to participate in the fun of nesting season.
The Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa is home to the world's third-largest barrier reef just offshore. They offer three different initiatives that benefit the Loggerhead Marine Life Center nearby, including a plush sea turtle for purchase, a For the Love of Si Turtles spa program that donates 10% of sales to the organization, and a Meet a Sea Turtle package (minimum two nights) featuring a one-day admission for four people to the Loggerhead Marine Life Center. Partial proceeds of the package go to benefit the center.
The Jupiter Beach Resort is always a player in sea turtle nesting season and is also partnering with the Loggerhead Marine Life Center. Their Stay and Save the Sea Turtles package includes a $50 daily resort credit, a stuffed loggerhead sea turtle welcome amenity and, with a booking of three nights or more, a portion of the package will be donated to the center.
For two days in September, the Boca Raton Resort & Club will host two sea turtle release events on Sept. 7 (for club members only) and 14 (for both resort guests and club members). The Gumbo Limbo Nature Centerwill have a 30-minute educational presentation before the release of the turtles to the ocean. According to the resort, the event has drawn about 50 guests in the past.
Moore said, "Sea turtles spend their entire lives in the ocean, except for nesting. This is the only time they come out of the water. Every species is listed as either Endangered or Threatened, so it's important to learn about them and what guests can do to help protect them.