CLEARWATER BEACH - Since turtle nesting season started in May, 114 sea turtle nests have been discovered on the beaches from Clearwater Beach to Pass-A-Grille, according to Tammy Langer, director of sea turtle nesting and turtle rehabilitation at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Island Estates. The eggs in 14 of those nests have already hatched, she said. Early on in the nesting season, the aquarium asked that residents living along the beach turn off outside lights, draw drapes and avoid using flashlights on the beach. There are two reasons for this. Female turtles will avoid nesting on beaches which are heavily lit and when hatchlings emerge after an incubation period of 60 days, they use the natural light from the moon and stars reflecting off the water to find their way to the Gulf. Artificial lighting can cause the baby turtles to become disoriented.
Though the nesting season ends August 31, hatchlings may be found on the beach well into October. Beach residents can help them survive by adhering to the "Lights Out!" request through October 31. You can also help by not approaching or taking flash photos of turtles you see on the beach.
In Indian Rocks Beach, south of Clearwater Beach, code enforcement officer John Ouimette conducted an inspection of the beach back in April to assist beachfront residents in complying with the city's Turtle Lighting Program. The City of Indian Rocks Beach Code of Ordinances Lighting Standards, Article III, Section 86, establishes guidelines which are required for compliance to minimize artificial light that might deter hatchling and nesting sea turtles from returning to the sea. Guidelines for the program are stated as follows: Lighting must be positioned so that it does not cause direct illumination, glare or excessive spill light on the sandy beach. Balcony lighting must be shielded from the beach. Extinguish all lighting in rooms not being used, or close curtains, blinds, etc. to prevent spill light. Parking area lighting must be shielded to prevent spill light onto the beach. Only deflected light may be directly visible from the ground level of the beach.
Though Florida is home to the Green Turtle, Leatherback Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Kemp's Ridley Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle, the loggerhead turtles are the most common. All of the nests in this area at this time are loggerhead nests, Langer advised on a recent Saturday morning. The average number of eggs deposited in a nest is 120. Hatchlings measure about three inches in length. Loggerhead turtles are reddish-brown in color and are named for their large head. They take 15 to 30 years to reach maturity and can weigh as much as 350 pounds. They feed primarily on shellfish.
Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act and by Florida State law. Persons who experience a sea turtle sighting are asked to notify the Clearwater Marine Aquarium at (888) 239-9414, ext. 224. The non-profit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals is located at 249 Windward Passage.
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