Of the six sea turtle species that are found in U.S. waters or that nest on U.S. beaches, all are designated as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Beaches in Baldwin County, including Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach, are considered a terrestrial critical habitat for nesting sea turtles.
Share The BeachVolunteers from the Share the Beach program assist sea turtles during the nesting season as the hatchlings make their perilous journey to the water.
Friends of the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores formed the program in 2005. Each year, the volunteer group is tasked with patrolling the beach, educating the public and school groups, late-night nest observation, and assisting with supply and equipment preparations.
Share the Beach follows protocols set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Federal Endangered Species Recovery Permit. Volunteers help protect the nesting sea turtles and their habitat under these guidelines by using donations from sponsors and from the Adopt-a-Nest program. The program does not receive federal funding.
The 2016 nesting/hatching season was a record breaker for the Alabama coast. From the 2016 Alabama Sea Turtle Nesting Summary Report of the Share the Beach program:
A total of 237 nests were located on the beaches of Alabama in 2016. Four of these nests were confirmed as Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles, while the rest were Loggerhead Sea Turtles.
Data gathered indicate that 22,240 eggs were laid on the beach, yielding 15,035 viable hatchlings of which 14,104 hatchlings made it to the Gulf of Mexico. This was a hatchling success rate of 67.91 percent and a survival rate of 63.71 percent. The average incubation time for all viable nests was 56.9 days with an average nest size of 102.3 eggs.
Fun Sea Turtle Facts
- Sea turtle nesting season is May 1- Oct. 31.
- Three species of sea turtles nest on Alabama’s Gulf Coast: green, Kemp’s Ridley and loggerhead.
- Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act. It is against the law to disturb nesting sea turtles, hatchlings or their nests.
- Sea turtles first appeared about 200 million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Sea turtles, the last of the ancient reptiles, are like living fossils.
- Female sea turtles lay an average of 110 leathery, ping pong-sized eggs at a time. Only a few young turtles, however, will make it to adulthood.
- Hatchling sea turtles find their way to the Gulf waters by moonlight or starlight.
- Building lights along the shore may confuse the baby sea turtles, drawing them away from the water.
- Adult loggerhead sea turtles weigh between 175 and 350 pounds. Baby hatchlings weigh only one to two ounces.
- Sea turtle egg incubation period is 55 to 75 days. Most hatchlings emerge together in an “eruption” of babies from the nest.
How You Can Be Sea Turtle Friendly
- While visiting the beach during nesting season, Share The Beach urges beach goers to follow the following tips for being sea turtle friendly:
- Avoid using flashlights or flash photography on the beach at night.
- Turn off outside patio lights and shield indoor lights from shining onto the beach at night.
- Do not disturb sea turtle nests.
- Leave sea turtle tracks undisturbed.
- Do not leave trash on the beach.
Leave Only Footprints OrdinanceAn initiative implemented in 2016 called the “Leave Only Footprints” campaign seeks to strengthen the environmental and public safety focus on area beaches so guests can enjoy an even more pleasant experience on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
In response to concerns related to the issue of beach litter and debris, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have adopted new policies to build on programs to reduce litter, promote recycling and increase environmental awareness.
The policies require that all personal items be removed from the beach daily and state that any personal property left on the beach one hour after sunset will be removed and disposed of overnight.
Personal items include but are not limited to beach chairs, umbrellas, tents, ice chests and beach toys.
“The new Leave Only Footprints initiative being undertaken by the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is an extremely positive effort for the safety, sustainability, and marketability of our beaches,” tourism officials stated. “Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism is happy to be working alongside the cities to get the word out about new regulations and the reasons behind them.”
You can be a part of the effort to learn more about and protect endangered sea turtles next time you stay in a Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Fort Morgan or Perdido Key vacation rental.