The annual sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 through October 31. Nearly 70 percent of the nation’s sea turtle nesting takes place on Florida beaches. In a typical year, about 500 sea turtle nests are laid on Volusia County beaches. Just three months into the 2022 nesting season, a record-breaking 1,410 nests have been observed. The loggerhead are the most common sea turtle species to nest in the area. The green, leatherback and every so often, a Kemp’s ridley – all considered endangered species – also call Volusia’s coasts home.
The most recent year that saw an increase in nests was 2019, totaling 984 nests. That number dropped a bit to 902 in 2020 and 780 in 2021 before climbing sharply this year. Similar trends are being observed on other nesting beaches in the state. Volusia County staff and volunteers are extremely busy marking and monitoring nests, but they need the public’s help in ensuring a safe passage from nests to the ocean.
“We ask beachgoers to make sure the beach is dark, clean and flat at night so hatchlings can find their way offshore to the floating sargassum seaweed where they will spend the first portion of their lives,” said Jennifer Winters, Volusia County’s protected species manager.
Listed below are a few simple things the public can remember to help protect these creatures:
- Do not disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests.
- Do not dig holes. If you do, please fill them back in.
- Keep the beach dark. Use only red LED portable lights.
- Tear down sand castles and remove all beach equipment and sand toys.
- Use designated crossovers or walkways and keep off the sand dunes.
To help protect turtles from bright lights, the county adopted a lighting ordinance and actively works with oceanfront property owners to reduce artificial lighting problems.
As of August 23, 2022, New Smyrna Beach’s total nests were recorded as 707, nearly half of the county’s total. The website, VolusiaSeaTurtles.org, features a sea turtle nest dashboard including an up-to-date nest counter, a graph of monthly totals, nests by city name and helpful links to resources including sea turtle biology, beachfront lighting and more information.
The busy nesting season will lead to a busy washback season as many of the young turtles will be washed back to shore when summer storms send seaweed hurtling to the beaches. “The tiny turtles blend in with the seaweed, making them difficult to spot,” Winters noted.
Volusia County’s Environmental Management Division has trained a team of Washback Watchers, who comb the beach each day as fresh seaweed washes in during washback season, which lasts from August through November. Volunteers may register for next year’s training classes at VolusiaSeaTurtles.org.
“If you find a washback or hatchling on the beach that is in imminent danger, do not put it back in the ocean,” Winters stressed. “Instead, contact Beach Safety for further instruction. These animals are often exhausted and can barely lift their heads to breathe. Holding them in water or putting them in the ocean can be fatal.”
If you find a washback sea turtle, she encourages you to immediately notify Beach Safety at (386) 239-6414. Between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., call the Volusia Sheriff’s Office at (386) 248-1777, ext. 6.