Sea Turtle on Alabama’s Beaches
May through October will see the seasonal arrival of sea turtles to nesting grounds along Alabama’s beaches. Nearly every species of sea turtle is endangered. If you want to learn more about these creatures, and what you can do to encourage their repopulation, please read on.
A female sea turtle will leave the water about every two weeks on average to dig her nest and will lay as many as 126 eggs. She may nest as many as seven times in one breeding season and incubation can take anywhere from 42 to 75 days. When the nest hatches, it’s called a boil, because it looks like the sand is boiling as the little creatures break out of their shells and climb to the surface.
Female sea turtles nest by digging a hole deep in the sand. They will deposit their eggs in the hole, and then return to sea. If you see an area marked with stakes along the dunes, that is a sea turtle nest, and it is against the law to touch or disturb the nest. Nests are vulnerable to various disturbances, including roaming predators, high traffic, or being dug too close to the waterline. In the instance a nest needs to be moved, the nests, and the positions of the eggs are marked with precise measurements and moved into safer area. This is done with the help of trained scientists and approval from the wildlife commission.
It takes 32 to 35 years for a loggerhead to reach sexual maturity. The vulnerability of baby sea turtles to larger animals and environmental stress in combination with the amount of time it takes for them to reach sexual maturity contributes to their slow population growth.
The Kemp’s Ridley species of sea turtle is one of seven in the world, and it is one of two sea turtle species that are listed as critically endangered. Males never leave the water, although females do to nest, and they always nest at the same beach in which they hatched.
Share the Beach is a volunteer organization that works closely with wildlife conservationists and scientists to help protect nests and assist hatchlings in making it into the water unscathed. The program has seen increased growth of nests on Alabama’s beaches, even more so in recent years with the new Leave Only Footprints initiative that helps to keep debris off the beach that can harm nesting sea turtles. Simple things to keep in mind, like filling in any holes that you may have dug and removing all of your debris at the end of a day at the beach can make a huge difference in the ease with which a female sea turtle is able to find a safe place to nest. Another thing to keep in mind is to turn off your lights at night that face toward the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles navigate by the moonlight, and artificial lighting can be confusing to them.
Thanks for doing your part to help our sea turtle neighbors, and we appreciate you sharing the beach!