I live in urban Fort Lauderdale and thus I am always amazed and thrilled that some 3,000 huge sea turtles still lumber onto Broward County beaches at night to lay eggs.
It seems so primordial.
And yet, every summer our beach is decorated with neon-colored tape and signs to show where these ancient creatures have buried their eggs. Florida beaches are the No. 1 place for sea turtle nests in North America from May to October.
Up and down the Atlantic coast (where sea turtle nests are most common), parks and environmental groups organize night-time sea turtle walks in June and July to observe the natural wonder.
Getting a chance to see a sea turtle in action takes some doing, but it’s a memorable experience. Visitors are led to a spot on the beach where a sea turtle is digging a hole a foot or two deep with her hind flippers. The turtle then starts filling the nest with soft-shelled eggs the size of ping-pong balls. After laying, she re-fills the nest with sand and heads back into the ocean. The whole process takes 30 to 60 minutes.
The most common variety of sea turtle here is the loggerhead, with leatherbacks and green turtles being much rarer. Loggerheads average 200 to 250 pound. Greens can way up to 500 pounds. Leatherbacks can get up to 1500 pounds. Wildlife-protection regulations limit turtle walks to observing only loggerheads.
Nearly all sea-turtle walks require reservations. Some get booked for the season on the day they take reservations, and some don’t take reservations until specific dates. Several of the best sea-turtle walk locations are away from urban centers, so a turtle walk might make a good anchor to a weekend getaway or vacation trip.
To see a nesting turtle, you need to go with a group: Turtle-walk guides know the federal and state laws about what you can and cannot do regarding these threatened or endangered species. (For example: No flashlights except for guides, who need permits, and no flash photography.)
In most cases, you’ll be with a group of 20 or 40 people. All sea-turtle walk programs are required to begin with an information session or talk. During that time, most programs send out “scouts” to find nesting sea turtles for the group to observe.
In most places, participants have to be able to walk a mile or two on sand, and many sea-turtle walks discourage children under 8 or anyone with limited mobility. Wear dark clothing, bring insect repellent and a water bottle. And bring patience: One night I went on a sea-turtle walk, we waited several hours before a turtle was spotted, and for awhile, it looked like we weren’t going to get lucky. No matter where you go, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a sea turtle.
There are some beaches where the odds are better than others. The place with most turtle nests per mile? Based on the 2013 season, Palm Beach County beaches had 394 nests per mile. Turtle Walks in Palm Beach County are held at Gumbo Limbo, MacArthur State Park and Loggerhead Marine Life Center.
The odds are also good in Martin County, which had 381 nests per mile. Turtle walks on its beaches are run by FPL. Brevard County is home to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which was specifically created to protect sea turtle nests. Urban Broward County, by comparison, had 78 nests per mile last year — still, that added up to 2,974 nests! (These figures are for monitored beaches, not the total shoreline.)
Naturalists tell us there’s no way to predict which night will be good for turtle nests — there is no relationship between sea turtle nesting activity and the phase of the moon, the weather, or the tides.
All of these walks fill up quickly and some cost as much as $20 per person. There are two programs that are free — FPL and Sebastian Inlet State Park. Walks at the Hobe Sound Nature Center were full as of May 4 and you can count on many others to fill up before May is over.
Here’s a report on my experiences at a turtle walk at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. (We went on a night when there were so many turtles nesting we couldn’t leave the beach until a few cleared the area.)
There are sea turtle walks up and down the Florida Atlantic coast. All information has been updated for 2016.
John U. Lloyd Beach State Park
- 6503 N. Ocean Dr., Dania Beach, 954-923-2833
- At 9 p.m. every Wednesday & Friday in June and July 2016.
The state park charges no additional fee beyond park entrance, which is $4 for a single car occupant and $6 for two to eight in a car. Reservations are required. Participants meet at a pavilion for a 20-minute ranger talk and Q&A. During the program, a scout looks for a nesting sea turtle to be observed. About half of the 2015 walks succeeded in seeing nesting turtles. Reservations may be made by calling (954) 924-3859.
Museum of Discovery and Science
- 401 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale.
- Call 954-713- 0930 to make reservations.
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 & 30 , 2016
July 5, 6, 7, 12, 13 & 14, 2016
- $20 for non-members
This walk begins at the museum with a talk about turtles, including a chance to meet the museum’s young ambassador loggerhead sea turtle. Then guests use their own transportation to meet at the beach. Advance reservations are required. See details on MODS events page.
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
- 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton FL 33432., 561-544-8605
- The 2016 schedule: 8:30 p.m. Starting May 19 and then on many Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights through July 14, 2016
- $17 per person.
The program begins in the Gumbo Limbo classroom, and ends by 11 p.m. on the beach. Children must be 8 years of age or older and adults must participate with children and teens under 18. There is a limit of six tickets per person. The 2016 walks can be reserved online here. Tickets to the general public begin at 9 a.m. May 9. See more information on the Gumbo Limbo website.
Gumbo Limbo also offers another opportunity to see sea turtles — and for this program, you are guaranteed to see sea turtles! Gumbo Limbo brings visitors to watch tiny sea turtle hatchlings scramble into the surf as they are released to make it on their own in the ocean. The 90-minute program, which is open to even the youngest kids, begins in the Gumbo Limbo classroom and ends on the beach.
- Sea turtle hatchling releases are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights from July 18 through September 8, 2016.
- General ticket sales begin June 13 online.
- See more information on the Gumbo Limbo website
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
- 10900 State Road 703 (A1A), North Palm Beach, Florida 33408, 561-624-6952
- 2016 schedule: June 6 runs through July 29, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, except July 4, 2016
- Cost is $10 per person.
MacArthur has one of the highest concentrations of turtle nests in the area, and only a handful of walks went without seeing a turtle in 2014.
Tickets will go on sale online at 9 a.m. May 31 at the website managed by the Friends of MacArthur Beach State Park. There will be limit of eight tickets per order. For information call the nature center at 561-624-6952 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Tours go rain or shine and cancel only for active lightning storms; otherwise, tickets are non-refundable.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center
- 14200 U.S. Hwy. 1, Loggerhead Park, Juno Beach 33408
- 8:45 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday evenings in June and July, 2016
- Tickets are $17 each. (Walk-ins are $20, and a spot is not guaranteed. )
- Walks begin at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and can last until midnight. Registration starts May 2 and can be made online.
In 2014, I joined a walk at Loggerhead Marine Center; here’s my report. Loggerhead is a good place to take a turtle walk because before it starts you get to view the many tanks of turtles in rehabilitation. No one goes home, then, without seeing a sea turtle, even if it is in captivity.
Barrier Island Sanctuary
- 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951, 321-723-3556
- 9 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights between June 1 and July 28, 2016.
- $15 per person. Reservations are made starting May 1. See their website.
These walks are through the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the largest nesting habitat for loggerhead sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere. It has more endangered green sea turtles nests than any other place in North America, plus the world’s largest sea turtle, the endangered leatherback, nests here too. Regulations, however, turtle walks to observing only the nesting of more common loggerhead turtles.
Sea Turtle Preservation Society
- Melbourne Beach/Satellite Beach
- Call 321-676-1701 to make reservations.
- $15 minimum donation per adult; children 6 to 12, $10
This private group holds turtle walks in Melbourne Beach or Satellite Beach in June and July and provides location information when you reserve, which must be done by phone or in person. Children under 6 are discouraged and participants must be able to walk a mile on soft sand. Office hours are 11 a.m.to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Call 321-676-1701 or, for more information, visit www.seaturtlespacecoast.org.
Florida Power & Light
- 6501 South Ocean Drive, Highway A1A, Gate B, Jensen Beach, FL 34957
- St. Lucie nuclear power plant at the Energy Encounter, Hutchinson Island, 1-800-334-5483.
- 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights in June and July 2016
These walks are free and fill up immediately. Reservations for June weekends can be made starting May 1. Here’s more information. To reserve, call 1-800-334-5483.
Hobe Sound Nature Center
- 13640 S.E. Federal Highway (U.S. 1), Hobe Sound, Florida 33455, 772-546-2067
- 2016 walks are booked up. Add your name to the waitlist by calling (772) 546-2067.
- $5 per person and donation requested.
Walks go rain or shine. More info: Hobe Sound Nature Center website.
Sebastian Inlet State Park, Fishing Museum
- 9700 South A1A, Melbourne Beach, FL 32951, 772-388-2750
- 2016 schedule: Every night but Wednesdays and Thursdays in June and July 2016
- No groups.
Reservations for the month of June will be taken on May 15, 2016, starting at 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Reservations for the month of July will be taken on June 15, 2016, starting at 10:30 a.m. Call 772-388-2750. Programs are conducted by state park rangers.
Canaveral National Seashore
- 308 Julia St., Titusville, 32796, 386-428-3384, ext. 223.
- Walks will be conducted Wednesday through Saturday in June and July 2016 in both the Playalinda district (the southern section) and the northern Apollo district.
- You can make reservations for starting on May 15.
- $14 per person; children 15 and under are free. No children under age 8.
The park, the longest undeveloped stretch of beach on Florida’s east coast, takes reservation by phone. Canaveral National Seashore website.
See sea turtles every day
Several of the groups offering sea turtles have turtles in their care on exhibit — Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton, Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.
You can get close to an endangered species any day of the year with a tour of this non-profit rehabilitation center in the Florida Keys. Read more from Florida Rambler about the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon.