A Walk with Florida’s Sea TurtlesMay 2023
By Bonnie Gross, Visit Florida
Visitors are often surprised to learn that more than 100,000 threatened and endangered sea turtles nest on Florida beaches every summer. In fact, nearly 90% of the sea turtle nesting in the U.S. occurs in Florida from March through October of each year.
What’s even better is that you can see nesting sea turtles in Florida. Up and down the Atlantic Coast, where sea turtle nests are most common, parks and environmental groups organize nighttime sea turtle walks in June and July.
Mama turtles seek out spots on the beach where they can dig a 1- or 2-foot hole with their hind flippers. They fill their nests with soft-shelled eggs the size of table tennis balls. After laying the eggs, the turtles refill their nests with sand and head back into the ocean. The whole process takes 30 to 60 minutes.
During a turtle walk, guides lead visitors to the turtles to watch the process, typically in a hushed circle around the nesting spectacle. 2 months later the eggs hatch, and scores of tiny turtles emerge from the sand at night and clamber into the water.
Florida’s most common variety of sea turtle is the loggerhead, which averages 200 to 250 pounds at adulthood. Larger leatherbacks and green turtles nest here in smaller numbers, but turtle walk participants are not allowed to watch them lay eggs because leatherbacks and greens are endangered, and the presence of people might disturb the nesting. Guided tours are the only way to witness sea turtle nesting on the beach. Turtle walk guides know the federal and state laws that pertain to observing with care. For example, no flashlights — except for guides who must have permits — or flash photography are allowed.
All sea turtle walks require advance reservations. Several of the most popular sea turtle walk locations are away from urban centers, so a turtle walk might make a good anchor for a weekend getaway or beach vacation.
- You’ll be with a group of 20 or 40 people. All sea turtle walk programs begin with an information session or talk. During that time, most programs send out scouts to find nesting turtles for the group to observe.
- You must be able to walk 1 or 2 miles on sand.
- Bring insect repellent, a water bottle and patience.
- Most turtle walk tours don’t accept children under the age of 6.
- Most also charge a fee of up to $20 per person. Some are free, but most fill up fast so book early.
- Though odds are good you’ll see the nesting process, there’s no guarantee. Even if you never spot a turtle, you can always enjoy the moonlight and waves.