Every spring and summer, one of earth’s great marvels unfolds on beaches around the world. Sea turtle nesting is one of prehistoric earth’s last great holdouts, 100 million years in the making, where lumbering reptilian leviathans search out the same beach from which they hatched in order to lay clutches of eggs just below the sand. All along Florida’s coast, thousands of turtles lay millions of eggs, making the state’s beaches some of the most prolific rookeries in the world, with Palm Beach County pulling some significant weight (according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Palm Beach County recorded 16,986 loggerhead nests in 2013, roughly 21 percent of the state total). At the forefront of the fight to protect our maritime neighbors is the Loggerhead Marinelife Center [LMC] in the Juno Beach, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting marine ecosystems through sea turtle flagship programs, like the annual summer turtle walks.
Sea turtle nesting season officially began on March 1 when leatherbacks, the true behemoths of the turtle world, began their crawl to shore. Things really begin to heat up in June and July for LMC when the loggerheads and greens begin to make their presence known in the nearly ten-mile stretch the organization monitors. In 2013, on the beaches between the Martin/Palm Beach County line and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, LMC recorded 12,907 total nests between its three nesting species (loggerhead, green and leatherback), which included a record number of 4,689 green sea turtle nests. And though these numbers are pretty astounding, especially when considering each nest contains roughly 100 eggs per (that’s a conservative 1.29 million eggs), most do not hatch (roughly 40 percent hatch), and those that do, face a difficult race for survival. It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood, so each and every nest is necessary for the survival of the species.
With a three-pronged mission focusing on education, rehabilitation and research, LMC is a leading voice in the fight for Florida’s nesting turtles. 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. Its turtle walk program helps give greater insight into these often-misunderstood marine creatures when they are at their most vulnerable, but also most accessible: ashore nesting.
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. Groups meet at LMC’s headquarters at Loggerhead Beach where a staff naturalist leads a presentation on the plight on sea turtles and the degradation of their natural habitat, as well as observe some of the turtle patients rehabilitating in the turtle yard. Simultaneously, LMC scouts scour the beach in search of turtles; bringing guests out onto the beach only once the turtle has began the nesting process. By sending scouts, this helps eliminate human interference with turtles as they emerges from the water in search of a suitable nesting site, as well as helps ensure groups get to witness the egg-laying process versus false crawls. 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 30 people can walk per night, and tours fill up quickly. 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.
Witnessing a nesting turtle is not guaranteed.
For more information, visit marinelife.org.