Almost everyone who lives along the beaches of Escambia County is aware that May is the beginning of sea turtle season – but it is actually the beginning of nesting season for most of Florida’s turtles. Florida is one of the most turtle species rich locations on the planet. 25 species call Florida home, 22 of those can be found in the Florida panhandle. For Florida, 7 species are only found in the panhandle and two species – both map turtles – are only found in Escambia, Choctawhatchee, and Apalachicola River systems.
Many are familiar with the sea turtles of our area. They include the Green, Loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, and the big boy – the Leatherback. Loggerheads are the most common nesting turtles in our area, accounting for 80-90% of all nests. Though nesting season officially runs from May 1 to October 31, Loggerheads actually begin nesting in late April and will continue sometimes into September. Green turtle nesting is similar, and they are the second most common nesting turtle locally. Kemp’s Ridley and Leatherback nesting is rare on our beaches but they do occur. Leatherback nesting, though more lower latitudes, begins as early as February and runs through June. Hawksbill nesting in Florida is rare… period, there are very few records of nesting in our state anywhere.
For the other 17 species of Florida Panhandle turtles, you can expect the same. Most nest between April and July with May and June being peak time. However, that is not the case with all. Eastern Mud Turtles will nest from September until June, and Chicken turtles prefer nesting in the fall and winter when bog water levels are low. Most, like sea turtles, prefer to dig their nests on high-dry sandy beaches. Many species prefer to nest in the middle of the day and some prefer to nest during rain. Gopher tortoises have the smallest nesting season with most occurring between May and June.
Either way, it is definitely turtle season. This is the time of year when we see females leaving local waterways for high-dry nesting areas. For some neighborhoods this could be your yard, or along a road way. If you choose to help them cross the road here are some things to consider:
- YOUR SAFETY FIRST – there are reports of people being hit by traffic trying to help.
- Take the turtle to the side of the road they were trying to go. If you place them back where they were coming from, they will most likely cross to road again.
- Be aware that turtles can bite. They do not have teeth like their reptilian cousins but rather a beak. However, some of these can crush snail and clam shells and can certainly do damage to your hand. If you cannot pick the animal up safely, we recommend using some object (piece of wood, etc.) to move them out of the road. Be particularly careful with snapping and softshell turtles. They both have very long necks and a wider range than many turtles.
Those who live on our barrier islands should also be aware that turtle season also means behavior changes that help nesting success for the listed marine species.
- Moving all furniture and tents from the beach at night, as well as filling in holes you dug during the day
- Exterior turtle lighting. Turtles do not see yellow and red as well as blue and white, so using these “turtle friendly” lighting colors will help to encourage females to come ashore to nest and will be particularly helpful when the hatchlings emerge 60 days later.
- At night, you can reduce interior lighting problems by closing the currents or blinds or moving light fixtures away from windows.
We are lucky to have some many different kinds of turtles in our area. We hope you get a chance to explore our beaches or paddle our rivers and see them first hand. Enjoy the 2017 turtle season!
You can read more about our local sea turtle species on the marine science section of this website.