May marks the beginning of sea turtle nesting season on the Alabama Gulf Coast, and although we have seen an increasing number of sea turtles being born and returning to nest over recent years, we have also seen the unthinkable. You may remember the female sea turtle who was found in the surf with her neck attached to a beach chair. Or you may have heard the horrifying news of a group of tourists caught on camera looting sea turtle eggs who are now facing federal charges. Perhaps you’ve also heard the heartwarming stories of rescued sea turtles returning to the wild, like the endangered Kemp’s Ridley that was released last fall. It’s stories like these that remind us of our vigilance that we must protect our shoreline and take ownership of our need to educate people on how to Share the Beach with these gentle creatures.
Of the increasing number of sea turtle babies we are seeing born, it is important to note that these animals are at risk in the wild. They will provide food for other creatures, and they will come across hardships in the Gulf and ocean currents, but thanks to the work of volunteers from programs like Share the Beach, we are able to help more of these creatures survive. Because of the risk involved in making it into the waters unscathed (other creatures are keeping an eye out for an easy lunch, so to speak), it is very important that sea turtles make this journey quickly. We ask that you fill in all holes that you see, as they can not only be a tripping hazard for humans, especially as the light of day fades, but they are also an area where sea turtles can get stuck, both on their way to the beach to lay eggs and their way back out to sea.
Another hazard for sea turtles is bright white light emitted from condos, beach houses, and flashlights. Amber lighting is more sea-turtle friendly. The turtles mistake the white lights for moonlight and the reflection of the moon on the water. This disorients the sea turtles, as they use moonlight to navigate to sea. Keep this in mind next time you’re near the beach at night.
Clearly marked, nests will have stakes and ribbons along with signage indicating the need to stay away. Any signs of tampering with the nests will be investigated. Eggs are meticulously laid by the mother turtle, and any movement can permanently damage the eggs and potentially keep them from hatching. With all the challenges involved in supporting these animals, we are seeing the payoff of this work, and hope that our beaches continue to be an inviting home to the different sea turtle species for generations to come.