Little staked-off squares in the sand and the glow of red lights along the shoreline at night: It’s sea turtle nesting season here on Anna Maria Island, and we’re once again welcoming scores of these endangered creatures onto our beaches to make their nests and lay their eggs.
Every summer from May through October, southwest Florida recognizes the nesting seasons for a number of sea turtle species, including loggerhead, green, leatherback and even Kemp’s Ridley—the rarest sea turtle in the world. Loggerheads can weigh up to 300 pounds, while leatherbacks can grow to six feet in length and may weigh more than half a ton.
The mother turtles come ashore at night and use their rear flippers to dig a hole before laying a clutch of eggs, which they then cover over with sand. The process is exhausting for the animal, which struggles to move on land, and if she is stressed or startled on the beach, she may turn around without laying her eggs—a phenomenon known as a “false crawl.” Holes and beach furniture can be serious hazards.
Most of these species can live upwards of 50 years and travel more than 1,000 miles annually—only to return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their own eggs every other year. Anna Maria Island’s sea turtle nests represent generations of local turtles.
Officially trained and supervised volunteers on early morning “turtle walks” spot the tracks in the sand and evidence of the nests. They use wooden stakes and colored tape, or sometimes metal cages, to block off the nests and protect them from accidental interference. It is illegal to touch or disturb sea turtle nests. We hope that when you see them, you can take a moment to appreciate the incredible natural phenomena they represent—and the efforts our community makes to keep them safe.
But what’s with the red lights? As you travel along Gulf Drive this time of year, no doubt you’ll notice the island’s buildings and landscaping glowing red from the streetlights and architectural spotlights. This is for the turtles, too. Sea turtles have keen navigation senses (hence their thousand-mile migrations), but bright white lights on the shoreline can be disorienting—especially for the hatchlings, which must find their way to the water quickly in order to survive.
Here at Cedar Cove, our beachfront property is often home to sea turtle nests, which adds even more magic to the natural setting. We’ve joined many of our AMI neighbors in adopting a nest to support the programs and volunteers that ensure the eggs stay safe through their incubation in the sand and the hatchlings this fall are given the best possible chance to make it from their nest to the Gulf waters. To support those efforts, visit https://islandturtlewatch.com/get-involved/adopt-a-nest/.