Sea Turtle Program

Each spring, warming water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico trigger sea turtles to start their migration from their foraging grounds to their breeding and nesting habitats, where females come ashore to deposit eggs in the sand. Driven by instinct, ancestors of today’s sea turtles have undertaken this journey for more than 100 million years.

Sea turtle nesting on Sanibel and Captiva has dramatically increased over the past six decades, thanks to local and national conservation efforts.

How We Help

Sea Turtle Monitoring

SCCF is the permit holder for monitoring and protecting sea turtles on Sanibel and Captiva.

Nighttime Tagging

From May through July, SCCF monitors the beach through the night to document all nesting sea turtles and tag those without existing tags.

Daily Nesting Surveys

From April through October, SCCF staff and volunteers survey 18 miles of beach for signs of sea turtle nests and hatchlings.

Sea Turtle Response

When sea turtles are found injured, ill, or disoriented, SCCF staff are the first responders.

Sea Turtle Research

We collaborate with researchers across the country to study what impacts sea turtle health, behavior, nest success, and more. We've tagged nearly 200 sea turtles to track their movement patterns.

Public Outreach

Many threats to sea turtles can be reduced by altering human behavior. Our staff and volunteers work day in and day out to educate our local communities on how to safeguard sea turtles.

Turtle Icon
Call our Sea Turtle Hotline at 978-728-3663 to report any issues with nests, nesting turtles, or hatchlings.

Please keep our beaches sea turtle friendly:

  • Turn off or shield all lights that are visible from the beach. Do not use flashlights or cell phone lights on the beach. If necessary, use amber or red LED bulbs.
  • Do not disturb the screens covering nests. They prevent predators from eating eggs. Hatchlings can emerge through the holes without assistance.
  • Remove all beach furniture and equipment from the beach at night.
  • Dispose of fishing line properly to avoid wildlife entanglement.
  • Fill in large holes that can trap hatchlings and nesting sea turtles.
  • Do not disturb nesting turtles — please do not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles.
  • Properly dispose of trash. Litter left on the beach can attract predators and poses ingestion and entanglement risks for turtles.
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Sea Turtle News

line graph showing total loggerhead nests on sanibel and captiva between 2018-2023.
line graph showing green sea turtle nest counts on sanibel and captiva between 2018-2023.
Sea turtle nest were laid on the islands in 2023 (1,177 loggerhead, 24 green sea turtle)
Hatchlings successfully emerged

SCCF's Role

SCCF is responsible for conducting nesting surveys and recording all sea turtle activity along Sanibel and Captiva Islands. After a turtle has laid eggs, the nest is marked off and monitored throughout its incubation up until it hatches. Permitted individuals will inventory the nest to determine the productivity of the nest, i.e. how many hatchlings emerged and made it to sea.

Sea Turtle FAQs

When and how should I call the Sea Turtle Hotline?

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

  1. You see a stranded (sick, injured, or dead) turtle.
  2. You have information related to nests.
  3. You want to report lighting issues, beach furniture, or holes on the beach.
What species of sea turtles nest in Sanibel and Captiva?

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.

How do you know where the nests are?

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.

What is a false crawl?

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.

How big are sea turtles?

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.

What are the screens inside of the turtle nest?

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.

How many eggs do sea turtles lay?

The average is around 100, but this number varies among location, individuals, and species. Each individual turtle lays multiple nests per season (usually 3-6).

When are the sea turtle nests going to hatch?

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.

What time do sea turtles lay their nest?

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.

Where on the beach do sea turtles lay the most nests?

Sea turtles use all of Sanibel and Captiva’s shoreline to nest and the nest density varies year to year.

Do the mothers come back to check on their eggs?

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!

How long do sea turtles live?

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.

How many sea turtle hatchlings survive?

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.

How can I help sea turtles?

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. Learn more here.

Program History

Sea turtle monitoring on Sanibel began in the late 1950s with Charles Lebuff and Caretta Research, Inc., making it one of the longest-running monitoring programs in the country. The program was transferred to SCCF in 1992. The Sea Turtle Program operates under a permit granted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).