There is something magical about watching a tiny turtle emerge from its egg and wobble, awkward but determined, toward the sea. Add in the fact that baby sea turtles use the light of the moon to navigate toward the water, and you’ve got a truly mystical experience—except for all of the hazards that these pint-sized reptiles must confront along the way. Enter: sea turtle conservation.
Some of these challenges come from the natural world—ghost crabs stalk newly hatched turtles every inch of their way to the water, and once the babies have made it to the sea, they’re at risk of being gobbled up by hungry birds or fish. Humans also pose great risks to infant and adult turtles by developing or disturbing land where mother turtles nest, littering beaches with debris that can entrap or injure turtles of all sizes, and utilizing artificial light sources that rob baby turtles of their sense of direction.
The good news is that, from the Carolinas to Costa Rica, sea turtle advocates have banded together to support and protect these beautiful creatures—and if you’re around at the right time, you just might get the chance to see a baby turtle take its first steps into the sea.
In North Carolina, where nesting season is mid-May to August and baby turtles hatch 60 days later, find your way to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City, a fantastic organization that’s open to the public for a small fee. Visiting pristine Bald Head Island? Take a trip to the Conservancy for a chance to participate in Nest and Sea Turtle Patrol Ride-Alongs.
A little bit further south? Nesting season in the South Carolina barrier islands takes place from May through August, with hatching from July to October. Take a tour of the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center in Charleston to get a close-up glimpse of injured turtles that are undergoing rehabilitation and become a Sea Turtle Guardian.
Located on beautiful Jekyll Island, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center—the state’s only turtle rescue and rehabilitation facility—offers a behind-the-scenes tour, a ride with night patrol, turtle walks, and even a sea turtle summer camp. Turtle walks are conducted June 1-July 22, and reservations are required.
In sunny Florida, where the majority of sea turtles nest on the state’s central east coast from March to October and hatching season lasts from June to November, there are several organizations that offer public sea turtle watches. A list can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website, at http://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/sea-turtle/where-to-view/.
Traveling further afield? The Sea Turtle Conservancy offers eco-volunteer adventures in Tortuguero, Costa Rica; Soropta Beach, Panama; and in Florida, where you can make an online reservation for the June and July 2018 Turtle Walk Season. You can learn more at https://conserveturtles.org/get-involved-sea-turtle-conservation/.
Tips to protect hatching turtles:
Baby turtles are guided toward the sea by the light of the moon, and artificial light sources confuse them. If you’re staying in a beach house during hatching season, close the curtains at night and turn off the lights.
Don’t leave debris on the beach, and make sure to throw out any plastic bags in particular. These can create dangerous obstacles for baby turtles en route to the water.
It’s all fun and games to build a sandcastle and moat, but what constitutes a great day at the beach for you and your family may well prove a deadly trap for a baby turtle trying to make its way to the water. Bulldoze your creations when you’re done for the day, and make it as easy as possible for baby turtles to reach their ultimate destination—the sea.