Sea Turtle FAQ's

What species of sea turtles typically nest on the Longboat Key?

Loggerheads are the main species. We get a few green nests each year. Kemp’s ridleys, Leatherbacks, and Hawksbills are the more rare sea turtles that have nested on our beaches.

 


How many species of sea turtles are there?

SEVEN!!!

  •  Loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

  •  Green (Chelonia mydas)

  •  Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)

  •  Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea)

  •  Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata)

  •  Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea)

  • Flatback (Natator depressus)


What is the largest sea turtle?

Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles. Some have a shell length up to 6 feet and weigh 1,400 lbs.


What do sea turtles eat?

Loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys are omnivores – they eat shellfish (mollusks like whelks), crabs, sea urchins and jellyfish.

Green turtles are primarily vegetarian during their adult lives. They eat seagrass and algae. Leatherbacks eat jellyfish.

Hawksbills eat sponges.


What’s the difference between a land turtle and a sea turtle?

Gopher tortoises and terrapins are also found on beaches and may be mistaken for sea turtles. One easy identifier is that sea turtles have flippers and land turtles have feet with nails. Land turtles can also pull their heads and limbs into their shells and sea turtles cannot. Even though they sometimes reside on the beach, land turtles do not go into the ocean.


Are sea turtles protected?

All five species of sea turtles that nest in U.S. waters (Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, Kemp’s Ridley, and Leatherback) are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 along with Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act. Sarasota County, the City of Venice, and the Town of Longboat Key also have Marine Turtle Protection Ordinances for nesting sea turtles. The Kemp's Ridley is the most endangered.


Who is able to work with sea turtles?

Persons authorized to work with sea turtles and their nests have been trained and permitted to do so by both state and federal agencies. Authorized personnel will carry a permit issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and wear identifying clothing. Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program and Longboat Key Turtle Watch patrol the local beaches under the Marine Turtle Permit held by Mote. 


When is sea turtle nesting season on Longboat Key?

Official sea turtle nesting season occurs between May 1st and October 31st. Nesting usually occurs between May and August, hatching takes place from July through October.


How do you know a sea turtle has nested?

Sea turtles crawl from the water leaving tracks that resemble those of tractor tires. If they lay a nest they will leave behind a body pit and a mound of “fluffy” sand disguising the location of the eggs before returning to the water.


Do sea turtles always deposit a nest when they emerge from the water?

No. Sometimes sea turtles crawl up on the beach, and for any number of reasons, do not deposit a nest. This is called a non-nesting emergence or a “false crawl.” It may consist of a non-stop crawl to and from the water or include abandoned attempts at creating a suitable nest cavity.


How are turtle nests marked?

Upon finding turtle tracks, volunteers mark the activity with flags. Permitted personnel confirm the nests and then mark a sample of nests with yellow stakes and flagging tape. A false crawl is marked with a large “X” through the tracks to indicate the crawl has been documented. Please never disturb a nesting site by putting an X or any other markings near the nest. Our volunteers are trained to identify and mark sea turtle nests and any extraneous markings near the nest can impact our work.


How many nests does a sea turtle lay?

Sea turtles lay between 4 and 6 nests in a season, each approximately 2 weeks apart. After a nesting season, most loggerheads will spend 1-3 years at their foraging (feeding) grounds – often a long distance from the nesting beach -- before returning to nest again.


At what age does a turtle reach sexual maturity?

Loggerheads reach adulthood and can start producing eggs around 25-30 years of age.


How big are nesting turtles?

A typical adult loggerhead female weighs from 200 to 350 lbs and is about 3 feet long.


Does a mother turtle return to her nest?

No. Sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest and are ready to crawl, swim, and face ocean life on their own.


What should I do if I see a turtle nesting?

Watch in the dark, your eyes will adjust. Remain quiet and still and stay behind the turtle. Do not touch the turtle or encourage her to move. Do not use flash lights or take flash photographs. The flash could confuse the turtle and stop her from laying her eggs. Leave her a clear path to return to the water. Nesting turtles are still during most of the process and may take up to an hour to complete nesting. Unless the turtle appears to be in distress, there is no need for a Permitted person to be present. You may call the Mote Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at 941-388-4331 to notify them that a nest has been laid. Please leave the time, location, whether you saw eggs being dropped, and your contact information. Our Turtle Patrol volunteers will record the activity the next morning.


Do you relocate the eggs?

Eggs are relocated very rarely. We interfere as little as possible with the natural incubation and hatching process. Eggs are only relocated if they are laid within the daily high tide zone or if they are washing out in a storm.


How many eggs are in each nest?

Each nests contains an average of 100-120 ping-pong ball sized eggs.


How long does it take for sea turtle eggs to hatch?

Eggs hatch approximately 2 months after they are deposited, but Incubation time can range from 43 – 80 days. Temperature influences incubation time and is dependent upon the sand color and grain size; rainfall; and tidal activity. For example, a nest on a beach with dark, coarse sand and little rainfall will hatch sooner than a nest on a beach with light-colored, fine sand that has been inundated by water. White sand reflects the heat and therefore requires longer incubation times than dark sand, which absorbs more heat.


Does the temperature inside the nest affect the hatchlings?

Yes. The incubation temperature determines the sex of each hatchling. Average incubation temperatures below 84 degrees Fahrenheit produce males, while those above 84 degrees produce females.


Can a nest withstand being inundated with water?

Nests can tolerate some water inundation and still hatch successfully.


Do hatchlings always come out on the full moon?

Hatchlings emerge when they are fully developed which depends on the temperature of the sand in which they are incubating. They can emerge during any stage of the moon and still make it successfully to the water.


When do hatchlings emerge from their nests?

Hatchlings emerge at night when there are fewer predators. They are cued by a drop in temperature.


How do you know when a nest has hatched?

A circular depression (not a hole) in the staked off area and/or tiny hatchling tracks indicate a nest has hatched.


How do hatchlings know where to go when they emerge?

Hatchlings emerge at night and orient to the brightest horizon. In a natural setting, this would be the horizon over the ocean.


How many hatchlings will survive?

Biologists estimate that one out of 1,000 hatchlings will live to reach sexual maturity.


What should I do if I see a nest hatching?

If the hatchlings are still in the nest, leave them there (it may take minutes to hours before they fully emerge). If they have emerged from the nest, be aware that there may be 100+ hatchlings on the beach, so watch your step and keep your distance. Let the hatchlings make their way to the ocean on their own. Keep all lights off and do not block their path to the ocean.


What should I do if I see a hatchling in danger?

If you find hatchlings that are not headed towards the water or hatchlings that are lethargic, call the Mote Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (Longboat Key Manatee and Sarasota Counties) at 941-388- 4331 or FWC at 888-904-FWCC. Put the rescued hatchlings in a bucket with damp sand (no water!), cover the bucket with a towel, and keep it in a humid, warm environment (no air conditioning please!) until someone can come to pick up the hatchlings.


What threats are there to sea turtles?

  •  Natural Predation–Many predators such as crabs, raccoons, armadillos, coyotes, and birds target turtle eggs and hatchlings. If they are lucky enough to reach adulthood, sea turtles are relatively immune to predation, except for the occasional shark attack.

  •  Human Predation–Though most countries have laws against harvesting sea turtle eggs for consumption, the laws are not well enforced. Adult turtles are also harvested for meat, and their shells are made into jewelry and souvenirs. 

  • Lighting, beach furniture and beach trash can all have an impact on nest sea turtles and hatchlings.