The time of the turtles is upon us! May 1 marks start of nesting season

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – While no sea turtle nests have been found yet this season on Gasparilla Island, May 1 heralds the beginning of this very special time. Most residents who live on the island year-round may feel like they know sea turtle regulations pretty well, but we like to take this week every year to remind people that disobeying those rules isn’t just potentially deadly for the turtles … it can also take a chunk of change out of your pocket.

Last year approximately 20 calls and notifications came to Lee County Code Enforcement from July until the end of summer, documenting complaints about people disregarding sea turtle lighting violations. It is illegal during sea turtle season – May 1 through October 31 – to use lights along the beachfront, as it can disorient sea turtle hatchlings and send them on a path away from the water. Hatchlings rely on light reflected on the water from the moonlight to make their way to the Gulf after hatching. They almost always hatch at night, which is nature’s way of foiling predators, so the moon shining on the water is their guide. When artificial light from a house is the brightest and closest thing they see, they head for that instead. They can end up on roadways, in swimming pools and backyards … and it inevitably ends in tragedy.

Field notices were issued in all but one case, in which the homeowner spoke with code enforcement and promised the situation would abate. Hefty fines can go with violations, though, so it is best to comply. If you live in a residence close to the beach, all outside lights must be shut off at dusk during turtle season, and curtains must be closed if there lights on inside the home. Also, if you see a turtle on the beach at night please do NOT use flash photography. It is illegal to disturb a sea turtle in the act of nesting, and a hefty fine goes with that citation.

Beach furniture and holes that are dug by children playing in the sand can become deadly obstacles, and need to be removed prior to sunset. Adults and babies alike can become entangled very easily. They also can’t back up; they are a one-way-only creature. Babies fall in the holes and can’t get out and will die before being found.

Coastal residents and visitors are encouraged to follow these turtle-friendly tips during nesting season, May 1 – Oct. 31.

• 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

• Pick up all trash left on the beach, as turtles can become entangled in it as well

Do Not:

• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise, or shine lights at turtles

• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach. No flash photography if you spot a nesting turtle.

• 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

Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty. If you witness anyone disturbing a turtle, find an injured, ill, disoriented or deceased hatchling or adult, notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), 

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