The annual ritual that is as much part of an ancient species’ survival as it is a South Florida summertime tradition is once again upon us. We're talking, of course, about sea turtle nesting season and the Turtle Walks hosted by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. From March 1 through October 31, lumbering reptiles from the depths come to the shores from which they hatched to lay eggs of their own, continuing a chain of events that stretches back more than 100 million years.
Leatherbacks, loggerheads and green turtles—all of which are listed as endangered species—visit LMC's nearly 10 miles of beach from the Martin-Palm Beach County border to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, laying as many as 10,000 nests annually. After a 60-day incubation period, dozens of hatchlings clamber through the sand for a mad dash to the sea, thus beginning their aquatic life. Most eggs do not hatch, and those that do—roughly 40 of a nest of 100—face an even more daunting task: survival at sea. It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 sea turtles survive to adulthood, so each and every nest is necessary for the survival of the species. Beside the innumerable natural threats stacked against sea turtles, the biggest risk to their survival undoubtedly falls on us.
Through coastal development, beach renourishment programs, climate change and a slew of manmade problems, human impact has begun to set a dangerous course for sea turtles. But humans also have the ability to preserve and conserve, helping with the proliferation of the species. LMC is a leading voice in the fight for Florida’s nesting turtles, with its three-pronged mission of education, rehabilitation and research. Education plays one the biggest roles in helping stem the losses by introducing the plight of sea turtles to the next generation of burgeoning naturalists and marine stewards. LMC’s turtle walks help shine some light on these often-misunderstood marine creatures when they are at their most vulnerable but also most accessible.
Throughout June and July, LMC hosts walking tours to observe sea turtle nesting and the egg-laying process of loggerhead, green and the occasional leatherback sea turtles along the beaches of Juno Beach. The walks, roughly a half-mile long, begin at 9 p.m. and typically end at midnight every Wednesday through Saturday evening. These walks, which are led by members of LMC’s research and education departments, are not just educational but also have the ability to leave lasting impressions on hikers of all ages and help relay the mission LMC hopes to impart: “To promote conservation of Florida’s coastal ecosystem with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles.”
- Tickets cost $17 per person.
- Only 25 people can walk per night, and tours fill up quickly (most of June is already sold out). Registration is highly recommended (click here to sign up). Walk-ins are accepted in the case of cancellations, at a cost of $20 (cash only).
- Bring bug spray and refreshments, and wear beach shoes and dark-colored clothing to the walk.
- For more information, visit marinelife.org.