Springtime in Daytona Beach means warming temperatures, more hours of glorious sunshine and … the beginning of sea turtle season! Starting in mid-May, when these determined creatures lumber ashore to lay their eggs, through the fall, when tiny hatchlings scramble to the sea, nature lovers all up and down the Florida coast become fascinated with these adorable critters.
Sea turtles, which spend the vast majority of their life in open water, arrive at the shore under the cover of darkness to nest. Amazingly graceful swimmers, they emerge from the surf in search of the perfect spot above the high tide line. Using their hind flippers, they dig a hole a foot or so deep and lay up to 350 eggs. The eggs—soft-shelled and the size of table tennis balls —are then covered with sand and camouflaging debris, and the mama sea turtle returns to the ocean within a couple of hours. Female sea turtles may return about every two weeks during nesting season, laying a new nest each time. Afterwards, it can be up to nine years before they make their way to shore again.
About two months later, the eggs hatch, and the sand on top of the nest looks like it's boiling. Dozens of tiny hatchlings climb up through the sand and then, driven by instinct, scamper to reach the relative safety of the water. If you spot them on an early-morning walk along the beach, stand just near enough to keep hungry seabirds at bay until they reach the water.
Florida's offshore waters are home to five species of sea turtles. From the most common to the least, they are the loggerhead, green, leatherback, Kemp's Ridley and hawksbill. They range in size from the Kemp's Ridley, which measures about 30 inches long and weighs some 90 pounds, to the huge leatherback, which measures up to 7 feet long and weighs more than 1,000 pounds when full-grown.
These five species are either threatened or endangered, making them protected by Florida law, with a set of rules and regulations designed to help ensure their survival. Thanks to people following these guidelines, sea turtle populations have been rebounding from previously low levels. Even in good times, only about one in 1,000 eggs makes it to adulthood, a number that underscores just how precarious their survival is.
If you're seeking nature things to do in Daytona Beach, there's a lot you can do to help protect sea turtles.
The Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort named its bar The Blind Turtle to bring attention to the plight of sea turtles, which are being afflicted by a disease that causes tumors, affecting their vision and ability to swim and feed. The bar's name raises awareness of this important ecological issue affecting not only Florida's marine waters but the world's.
Make sure to grab a drink by our beachfront bar because one dollar from every Lost in Daytona and Absolut Citron Lemonade drink goes to the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory Sea Turtle Hospital. Their sea turtle hospital researches diseases affecting sea turtles and helps to rehabilitate sick or injured turtles.
To learn more about sea turtles while also visiting the nearby attractions in Daytona Beach, visit the Marine Science Center, located at 100 Lighthouse Drive in Ponce Inlet. You'll be able to watch sea turtles up-close and learn how they're rehabilitated for release back into the wild.
If you spot a turtle that appears sick or injured anywhere in the state of Florida, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3822).