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Experts warn to be cautious of sea turtle hatchlings along Florida beaches

Experts warn to be cautious of sea turtle hatchlings in spring
Experts warn to be cautious of sea turtle hatchlings in spring 02:06

CLEARWATER, Fla. (Tampa Bay Now News) - With spring break in full swing here in Tampa Bay, many visitors are flocking to our beautiful beaches to soak up the sun and enjoy the warm weather. But unfortunately, their actions are having unintended consequences for our local wildlife.

March is the official start to sea turtle nesting season and many of these turtles are coming ashore to lay their eggs. However, the bright lights and activity from beachgoers can have a devastating impact on the success of these nests.

"There's a lot of wonderful non-profits in the Tampa Bay region," said Peter Clark, President and Founder of Tampa Bay Watch. "We're all working together."

Restoring and protecting Tampa Bay's wildlife since 1993, nonprofit Tampa Bay Watch spearheads community-driven restoration projects. But as sea turtle nesting season begins,  they're restoring knowledge.

"Sea turtles are extremely rare and endangered in many cases, so we need to take every opportunity that we can to have a successful nest," said Clark. "These are wonderful beaches that accommodate a lot of tourism."

When baby sea turtles hatch, they use the light from the horizon to guide them to the ocean. But lights from beachfront properties can disorient them, causing them to crawl in the wrong direction. Small Tampa Bay travelers, like 7-year-old Bela, have some advice for fellow vacationers.

"First, always turn the lights off," said Isabela Quezada, who is visiting Clearwater on spring break. "When sea turtles are in there and people are throwing trash - so a napkin is over there – the sea turtles eat it and they get sick."

Sea turtle populations are already under threat from habitat destruction, pollution and climate change. But steps can be taken.

"Not to go and look at the nest. If a mother is coming to shore, to leave her alone," said Clark. "When they, the babies, come out of the nest, they generally want to walk toward the water, but sometimes they become disoriented by lights from condominiums, street lights, or from the different hotels up and down the beach, and they wander into areas where they don't belong." 

If you see a hatchling, call the nearest aquarium or state officials to make sure they get to the safest place. Make sure to not touch the hatchling and to leave the mother alone. Also avoid walking up to look at the nest. Be sure to cover any holes dug nearby in the sand as the hatchlings can get stuck.

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