Miraculous march to the sea: Florida's sea turtle hatch

From March to October, many of Florida's beaches welcome more than 100 thousand female sea turtles that are most definitely not coming to soak up the sun. Under cover of darkness, they emerge from the Atlantic and Gulf, make their way up the sand and dig holes to deposit their eggs. If everything goes just right, baby turtles prepare to emerge from the nests between 45 and 70 days later and begin their march to the sea. If you're enjoying the Florida beaches during nesting season, remember the turtles are relying on you not to bother their nests.

Expert traveler's tip: The best way to witness adult turtles nesting is on a public sea turtle walk approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Imperiled Species Management Section. Held between May and July, the walks feature guides trained to help you watch the animals without disturbing them.

When to time your visit

To maximize your chances of seeing baby sea turtles, time your visit between June and November when loggerhead turtle eggs hatch. Loggerheads are by far the most common of Florida's sea turtles, with nests spread across the beach over 120 miles. To improve your chances of a hatchling sighting even more, head for Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River or Brevard County.

Follow the rules

If you decide on a solo turtle-viewing expedition, keep these official do's and don'ts in mind:

  • All Florida's sea turtles, nests and hatchlings are threatened or endangered species protected under Federal and state law. Do not disturb them.
  • If you find an injured or dead turtle, call Florida Fish and Wildlife at 888-404-3922 or just dial *FWC, and provide the animal's location, closest access point and approximate size. If you see spray paint, it's a documented turtle.

Stack the babies' odds

Experts estimate that the odds are 1000:1 against a baby sea turtle living long enough to reproduce. The challenges begin as soon as they leave their nest, but taking these steps can help them on their way:

  • Turn out the lights and draw the curtains. The hatchlings use whitecaps and the moonlight reflecting on the water to guide them to sea. Other light sources, including flashlights, flash cameras, fireworks, campfires and light from beach houses disorient them. 
  • Smooth the sand: When you're the size of a baby sea turtle, sand castles and moats can be life-threatening obstacles. Knock them down or fill them in, along with any other obstacles that could stand between the babies and the sea. 
  • Clear the beach: Pack up your trash, furniture and belongings before leaving the beach for the day. These are more challenges for the turtles to overcome.