If you were lucky enough to get away over the summer to the Sunshine State for some R & R, you may have noticed that the beach goes extra dark at night. Many hotels even leave a note in each guest room asking you to make sure to close your blinds if your lights are on after sunset. So what's up with the black-out? Well, every May 15th through October 31st is Sea Turtle nesting season.
"That's pretty cool, but so what?" You may ask. "Why do we have to keep our lights off during turtle nesting season?" It's a good question with a pretty simple answer: To prevent the newly hatched baby sea turtles from getting disoriented on their way back out to the ocean.
Baby sea turtles have enough things to worry about once their cute little heads pop out of the sand for the first time. Before the little turtles make it to the water's edge, they first have to worry about crossing the open sand, exposing them to a number of predators that love to eat them, such as birds, crabs, raccoons, and even ants. Also, if they don't make it to the water quickly enough, they could suffer from dehydration. The last thing they need to worry about is being disoriented and going in the wrong direction.
According to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, in Boca Raton, FL, "every year, thousands of hatchlings are killed when they become disoriented by lights visible from the beach. Scientists believe that the baby sea turtles instinctively travel towards the brightest horizon, as the dark, tree-covered dunes are starkly contrasted with the reflective glow of the ocean. In fact, the hatchlings are so strongly attracted to light that they have been known to walk straight into bonfires left burning on the beach, undeterred by the heat of the flames."
What you can do to help baby sea turtles survive their trek to the ocean:
If you are visiting Florida (or live there) between May and October, once the sun goes down turn off all outdoor lights and indoor lights in rooms that face the beach. If you need the lights on inside, make sure you have "black-out curtains" and shut them to keep the light from shining out. If you must have an outdoor light on, replace the bulb with a yellow incandescent light bulb.
2. Spread the word!
Not everyone knows about the effect their lights have on turtle nesting. Tell everyone you know about it so they are sure to follow these same rules.
3. Don't touch!
If you are lucky enough to witness a nest of sea turtles hatching please observe from a distance. They have been fighting their way to the ocean for centuries and don't need your help. It takes time, so be patient and just enjoy being present for such an amazing act of nature.
4. Schedule or partake in a beach clean-up!
Less garbage on the beach makes for an easier getaway for little turtles. If they have to navigate over and around trash, it makes their journey that much harder. Be a part of a beach clean-up to ensure they don't have to battle any trash once the nests hatch.
Besides volunteering your time educating others on ocean conservation issues, making a monetary donation to a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to help save our oceans is the best way to do your part in ocean conservation. You can donate to the Aquatic World Foundation here!
6. Stay educated!
For more information on sea turtle nesting season or where you can go to participate in a sea turtle nesting hike, visit these great Florida sea turtle conservation websites:
- Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Sea Turtle Conservancy
- Loggerhead Marinelife Center
- MOTE's Sea Turtle Conservation & Research
With Labor Day on the horizon, what a better way to spend your long weekend than taking a trip to visit one of nature's most majestic creatures, the Sea Turtle. There are still two months left in the nesting season so you have plenty of time to witness an amazing feat: the female turtle returning to the same beach she was born on to dig her own nest, lay her eggs, and then those hatchlings dig themselves up, and race to the sea. Once you're down there, now you'll also know why the beaches go dark after the sun goes down.