Turtles at the Beach
The 2017 sea turtle nesting season in northeast Florida began in May. Typically, female sea turtles crawl up onto the beach to lay their eggs overnight, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. However, very occasionally they may nest in the daytime. Hatchling sea turtles also typically emerge from the nest during the night. However, rainfall can cool the sand temperatures, fooling the hatchlings into emerging during the daytime.
Sometimes beachgoers might find a turtle on the beach, and be tempted to “help” it by putting it into the ocean. THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. The gopher tortoise, which is a land animal, not an aquatic one, often lives in coastal dunes. Young or adult gopher tortoises are sometimes found on the beach. Gopher tortoises do not have paddle-like flippers. Instead, they have trunk-like legs. They are able to pull their head and legs inside their shell, which sea turtles cannot do. They cannot swim well. If they are placed in the water, they will probably drown. Gopher tortoises are considered threatened in Florida and are a protected species. They should never be placed in any water body.
Stranded sea turtles
Even sea turtles that are found on the beach should not be moved back into the ocean. All species of sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. If an adult or young sea turtle washes up on a beach, it is probably weak because of injury or illness. If it is actively crawling up or down the beach (e.g. a nesting female or emerging hatchling), it should be allowed to do this on its own. Stranded live or dead sea turtles should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-888-404-3922. Trained individuals will then be able to respond and make a determination about what should be done with the stranded animal.
Sea Turtle Hospital at UF Whitney Lab
We are very fortunate to now have the Sea Turtle Hospital at UF Whitney Lab. This facility has three missions: rehabilitation, research and education. They are one of the few sea turtle hospitals that is permitted to treat turtles that are infected with the fibropapilloma virus. This virus causes sea turtles to have warty growths on their soft tissues. It is highly contagious to other sea turtles. Many of the hospital’s fibropapilloma patients also have injuries—from fishing line entanglement to boat strikes to fish hook ingestion. The goal of the hospital is to release these animals after successful rehabilitation. They often post information about these releases on their Facebook page. Because the sea turtle fibropapilloma virus is not well understood, research on it is needed. The hospital is partnering with research faculty at the Whitney Lab to address this need.
To learn more about the sea turtle hospital, visit http://www.whitney.ufl.edu/sea-turtle-hospital/. The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Lab is now offering tours on the second and fourth Thursday of the month and second Saturday of the month at 10 a.m. The cost for these is $15 per person. Reservations are required. There is a limit of 10 people per tour. To make a reservation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.