By Ali Dunstan

What a wonderful time of year to live in Florida and experience one of the world’s most ancient and beloved marine creatures. Sea turtle nesting season in the Gulf of Mexico officially begins on May 1 and lasts through October 31 every year.

More than 90 percent of sea turtle nesting that takes place in the United States occurs in Florida, making the state a vital habitat for these protected animals. Our beaches and shorelines welcome five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles this time of year to lay their eggs.

Hosting mostly loggerhead, green, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill sea turtles on the West Coast, Florida beaches will also encounter the endangered leatherbacks, which can be found nesting on the East Coast. These threatened and endangered marine reptiles return to the beach in which they were born to lay eggs in the sand and dunes. This is an incredible feat considering females can take over 15 years to reach sexual maturity and rely on an internal GPS to navigate back to the place in which they hatched.

Living their lives entirely in the ocean, the female turtles pull themselves ashore to lay their eggs every two to four years.

Sea turtles can lay several clutches of eggs per season with an average of 100-120 eggs per clutch. An interesting fact about the locations of the nests is that the temperature the eggs incubate in the ground will determine the gender of the hatchlings that it yields. Warmer temperatures produce females while cooler temperatures will produce males.

Sea Turtle hatchlings will emerge from their nest after 45-90 days and head toward the brightest source of celestial light over the ocean. Artificial light pollution is one of the many challenges that these animals face in their plight of survival and coastal development often causes disorientation. It is estimated that only 1 of 4,000 hatchlings will survive into adulthood.

When visiting the beach, remember that Sea Turtles and their nests are federally protected. Nests are diligently monitored in the state and are marked with wooden stakes. We can all help sea turtles by keeping our beaches pristine. Picking up beach furniture and trash can help leave nest sites undisturbed.

Flash photography and flashlights should not be used on beaches at night. Never approach, touch or disrupt a nesting or hatching sea turtle. To report any foul play, poaching or injured marine animals, please call FWC’s Wildlife Hotline at 888-404-3922.