|(Photo Credit: Meghan McCarthy / Daily News File Photo)|
While most people follow the traditional spring, summer, fall, & winter seasons; Here on Manasota Key we observe two seasons - Lights on and Lights off. May 1 is the official start of Lights off or better known as Sea Turtle Nesting Season. Most beach side Manasota Key Motels, condos, & homeowners have already made the annual move to shield all outdoor lights visible from the beach. Sea turtle hatchlings have a natural instinct to move towards the brightest direction. On a natural beach, the brightest direction is most often the expansive view of the night sky over, and reflected by the ocean. Environmental lighting on the beach such as street lights, outdoor lighting on buildings, and even a lamp shining from a living room window can confuse the mother coming ashore to lay her eggs and the baby hatchlings some eight weeks later looking for their way to the sea.
Sea turtles not only have to get past lights, beach furniture, and predators to survive. The weather has to be dealt with as well. Coastal Wildlife Club, Inc. who manages the turtle patrol of Manasota Key had counted 1,988 turtle nests up to week #9 of last year's turtle nesting season when Tropical Storm Debby blew across SWFL and sadly most of the nests were lost. The 2012 season's final count was 7,030 turtle nests on Manasota Key of which 4,000 of those were false crawls. A false crawl is when a sea turtle comes ashore but for some reason gets startled or unhappy with the area and returns to the sea without making a nest or laying her eggs.
A few years back I got the surprise of my life. As I was sitting on Blind Pass Beach (located in the middle of Manasota Key not Sanibel) sorting through a big pile of shell crush looking for sharks teeth a lady came running up the beach shouting that turtles were hatching about a 100 yards up the beach. It's unusual for baby turtles to hatch during the day but it does happen. I had been making a video about looking for sharks teeth so my camera was already out. As I scurried up the beach to see what was going on I was met with 100's of baby turtles making their way to the water. I was also met with a flock of seagulls trying to scoop up the determined marching babies. Turtle patrol experts will tell you to stay back and quietly observe. When the sea gulls started swooping our little gang went into turtle rescue mode. They say only 1 out of a 1,000 turtles makes it to maturity. We wanted the odds to be as good as they could get. I was in awe of seeing the turtles hatch for days.
For more information on what you can do to prepare for the 2013 Turtle Nesting season click here.