Up and down the beaches of Longboat Key, beachgoers will see several areas marked with orange tape and stakes with writing on them. These areas are marked off to protect the ping pong ball sized eggs that fill the nests of loggerhead and green sea turtles.
Every year, hundreds of turtles come back to the same beach where they were born to lay the new generation of turtles that will inhabit the world’s oceans. However, these little turtles have the odds stacked against them. While only about 1 out of 2,000 of the turtles will make it to adulthood, these animals are natural born survivors.
To ensure that the baby turtles have the best chance of survival, there is a group of wonderful individuals in Longboat Key that have a passion for protecting this threatened species. The Longboat Key Turtle Watch is a non-profit organization that monitors the nests on the beaches of Longboat Key, starting at the Manatee County line up to Greer Island. These individuals work tirelessly, patrolling the beaches every morning, beginning at 6:30 AM. Their mission: To protect and preserve the turtle nests and rescue any stranded, lost, or distressed newborn turtles.
From the time the mother turtle arrives on the beach, she will lay up to 120 eggs that will remained buried for 60 days. Almost exactly 60 days after being laid, the eggs hatch and the newborn turtles must dig themselves to the surface and run the gauntlet to the water, overcoming sand mounds, holes, crabs, birds, and other predators in their quest to reach the open water. Once they reach the water, a whole new set of threats become present and the turtles must swim out to the sea grass (that can be 10 miles out to sea) where they will start the next phase of their life.
After the 60 day mark has passed, the Longboat Key Turtle Watch members will know that a nest has hatched, because it will have a sunken appearance. However, the work of these volunteers is far from over. The team scour the beach in the early morning hours looking for turtles that did not make it to the water. And 3 days after the 60 day mark, the Turtle Watch group will open the nest to see if there are any infant turtles trapped under the sand. After hatching, the small creatures can live for 3 days under sand and it is up to the Longboat Key Turtle Watch to dig them out and give them a chance at survival. Many times throughout August and the early part of September, the Turtle Watch group hosts public nest openings. Members of the general public can attend, what I consider to be one of the most educationally enriching and unforgettable experiences that I have ever been a part of. The volunteers enthusiastically educate you on the wonderful animals and you may even be fortunate enough to see them release turtles that they had rescued earlier that day.
The Longboat Key Turtle Watch volunteers allow visitors to form a circle (from a safe viewing distance) around the nest as they perform the excavation. The team removes and counts the hatched eggs, search for turtles trapped under the sand, and measure the dimensions of the nest. After the nest opening is complete, the volunteers form a barrier around the water and allow visitors to see one of the most awe inspiring spectacles that nature provides. The team releases the baby sea turtles onto the beach where they make a sprint to the water, protected under the haze of the sun that has set, and not exposed to the predators on the beach as they take the first step in their incredible journey.
If you want to know how you can help the Longboat Key Turtle Watch, visit their Facebook page. Here you will find information on public nest openings. Public nest openings occur sporadically throughout the summer, so check their page regularly. Nest openings occur in the evening, after sunset, but will be cancelled if there is thunder or lightning.
If you would like to live close to these beautiful beaches and take part in the conservation efforts of one of Florida’s most wonderful species, please contact Andy Richardson, REALTOR, 941-276-5997, firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for Longboat Key Real Estate for Sale.