Conservationists warn Fourth of July beachgoers not to disturb sea turtle nests

As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, biologists with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota are urging coastal residents and visitors not to go near sea turtles, their young, or their nests.

The warning comes during the middle of the species' nesting season, which runs from roughly May 1 through the end of October. It also follows the June 25 discovery of a dead sea turtle with a spear shaft through its head in Biscayne National Park near Miami. 

Sarasota County boasts the highest density of loggerhead nests on the Gulf Coast of Florida, but the species is endangered, which makes tracking the turtles' yearly nesting numbers essential. 

According to a Mote spokesperson, light from waterfront properties on nesting beaches can disorient female turtles and their young, which come out at night and use dim natural light to find the sea. The laboratory said beach furniture, trash and other obstacles can also cause problems for sea turtles and their young. 

In a news release from the nonprofit, Mote reminded visitors that sea turtles, along with their eggs and nest marking materials, are protected under federal law and that you can be penalized for any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead. 

Here are a few tips for your next trip to the beach:

- If you encounter a nesting turtle or hatchlings, remain quiet and observe from a distance. 
- Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October. 
- Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water. 
- Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water. 
- Bring beach furniture in at night. Nesting females can get stuck under beach furniture. 
- Follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life. 
- Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life. 
- Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.

Do not
- Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles. Hatchlings heading towards the ocean should be left alone. 
- Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. 
- Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water. 
- Use fireworks on the beach. 

Mote said if visitors suspect that someone is tampering with a sea turtle nest, harassing a sea turtle or is keeping of a sea turtle or any of its parts, they should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922, as well as their local law enforcement agency.

If someone finds sea turtle hatchlings that are not on the beach or are headed away from the ocean within Manatee and Sarasota counties, they can call Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program for instructions at 941-388-4331.

"Do not put hatchlings in water or take them into air conditioning," the release warned. 

If someone sees a sick, injured or stranded sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee county waters, they can contact Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212. Outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties, you can call FWC.

LINK: Track yearly nesting numbers on Mote Marine's website.