Observing Sea Turtles in Florida
Lives of the
Ancient Mariners

Adult turtles are of such a size that they have few natural enemies.
But the need to bury the eggs on land has always been the sea turtle's greatest vulnerability
Sea turtle nesting grounds are limited to the Southeast region of the nation. They extend from the Florida Keys to Virginia on the Atlantic Coast, and from Texas through Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles do not nest on the U.S. Pacific coast. All sea turtles are classified as endangered except for the loggerhead, which is a threatened species and the one which most commonly nests here.

With a few exceptions, male sea turtles spend 100 percent of their lives in the ocean. Female turtles would, too, except they need to come ashore to deposit their eggs. Adult sea turtles are solitary creatures most of the time. Their only true social interaction is said to occur during courtship and mating.

Mating may take place on the ocean bottom, the surface or in open water. Mating occurs about 30 days before the females begin nesting. The early season matings will fertilize an entire season's eggs.

It's a common assumption that sea turtles nest on the same beach where they were hatched. This is not a known certainty since it's impossible

to track a turtle from the time it hatches until it returns to nest. However, once a turtle begins to use a specific beach for nesting, she does appear to return to the same beach season after season.

Since turtles often spend their winters hundreds of miles from their nesting beaches, it is a mystery how they find their way back year after year. One theory growing in popularity is that they navigate by the earth's magnetic fields. "



photo courtesy of Florida Park Service

Today, all species of sea turtles except the loggerhead are classified as endangered. The loggerhead is a threatened species. It is not only illegal to kill sea turtles for their meat or to steal their eggs, it is illegal to import turtle products into the U.S.

Early explorers quickly recognized that sea turtles were an ideal fresh meat source. On sailing voyages, turtles could be kept alive indefinitely aboard ship by keeping them on their backs.
Eventually, turtles became popular food in Europe. In England, the clear soup made from the green turtle soon became a status symbol at important banquets.

Until recently, only researchers, scientists and poachers usually saw the nesting process. But new public awareness programs are allowing more of us to witness this spectacle. Few things are more memorable (or emotional) than watching a sea turtle complete the nesting process. Raccoons may dig out and destroy her eggs while she is still depositing them, but an egg-laying turtle perseveres nonetheless, rarely stopping for any reason.

It's as if she is the only remaining survivor of her race, and that her successful nesting is the only thing that matters in the world. For most people, the sight and the sounds of the nesting process are unforgettable, an experience that never completely leaves them.