Sea Turtle FAQ

11 Apr 2017

Call our hotline in these cases: 978-728-3663 (978-SAVE-ONE)

  1. Stranded turtle (including hatchlings)
  2. Information related to nests
    - Dug up eggs- depredation/unmarked nest
    - Nest that has been tampered with
    - Exposed eggs- washing away
    - Day time hatching
  3. Someone concerned about a lighting issue, beach furniture, or holes

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: What species of sea turtles nest here?
A: The majority of the sea turtle nests on Sanibel and Captiva are laid by loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles. Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) also nest less frequently on our beaches, and very rarely we see a leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) or Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) nest.

Q. How do you know where the nests are?
A: Every morning at dawn we patrol the beach for tracks that the sea turtle left behind when she emerged from the sea the night before. Their flippers leave tracks that look like tractor tires, about 2 feet wide.

Q: What is a false crawl?
A: Sometimes sea turtles go back to the water without laying eggs, which is known as a false crawl. If we determine that the turtle successfully laid eggs, the nest is staked off and watched over until the hatchlings crawl to the Gulf. If we determine that the turtle didn’t lay eggs (false crawled), we rake out the tracks so it isn’t documented again the next day.

Q: How big are sea turtles?
A: Adult loggerheads weigh about 250-350 lbs and have a shell length of about 3 feet. Adult green sea turtles are more stream-lined than the bulky loggerheads and average about 350 pounds and 3 feet in length.

Q: What are the screens inside of the turtle nest?
A: These screens are in place to protect the eggs from predators. Predation by crabs, birds, fish, sharks, and mammals is a natural part of the food chain. However, predators may sometimes become so proficient at finding and destroying eggs that they threaten all the nests on a beach. SCCF staff and volunteers help to control mammalian predation by placing a self-releasing screen over threatened nests. The screens are large enough to keep predators out, yet allow hatchlings to escape from the nest without assistance.

Q: How many eggs do sea turtles lay?
A: The average is 110, but this number varies among individuals as well as species. Each individual turtle lays multiple nests per season (usually 3-6).

Q: When are the nests going to hatch?
A: Nests are laid starting in late April through August and will begin hatching in late June and continue through October. It is very hard to predict when a nest will hatch because the incubation period depends on environmental factors such as sand temperature and moisture. Most nests will hatch between 45-65 days after they are laid.

Q: What time do sea turtles lay their nest?
A: Sea turtles typically nest anytime between dusk and dawn.  If you are lucky enough to encounter a nesting sea turtle, make sure to take all the precautions to avoid disturbing her.  Make sure all lights are off (no flash photos or phone lights) and maintain your distance to avoid spooking her and preventing her from nesting. Stay low to the ground because even a silhouette is enough to spook a nesting sea turtle.

Q: Where on the beach do sea turtles lay the most nests?
A: Sea turtles use all of Sanibel and Captiva’s shoreline to nest and the nest density varies year to year.

Q: Do the mothers come back to check on their eggs?
A: No. Once a female lays her eggs she will return to the sea. The hatchlings use their instincts to guide them once they emerge from the eggs!

Q: How long do sea turtles live?
A: While their actual lifespan is largely unknown, it has been estimated that loggerheads live 60+ years. Recent research in South Carolina indicated that a grandmother was nesting at the same time as her granddaughter. Considering that it takes about 30 years for loggerhead sea turtles to become reproductively active, these results show that females are still alive and nesting at 90+ years of age.

Q: How many hatchlings survive?
A: It’s estimated that only 1 in 1,000 will make it to adulthood. Without conservation efforts this rate might be closer to 1 in 10,000.

Q: How can I help?
A: There are simple ways that everyone can help protect turtles! Turn off all lights on the beach, respect nesting females, and maintain a safe nesting environment by filling in holes that can trap turtles and removing obstacles (such as furniture) from the beach at night.

Volunteers are essential to our sea turtle program. Scheduling for the upcoming season starts in late February; we encourage you to fill out the survey before then. Click here to volunteer for SCCF’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program.

You can also support the program by adopting a nest here!