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2023 Florida sea turtle walks: It’s time to register for a fascinating encounter

I live in urban Fort Lauderdale and am always amazed and thrilled that some 3,000 huge Florida sea turtles still lumber onto Broward County beaches at night to lay eggs.

It seems so primordial for a place better known for Spring Break.

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.

An adult female green sea turtle nesting on Juno Beach, Florida. (Photo: Jennifer Reilly)
An adult female green sea turtle nesting on Juno Beach. (Photo courtesy FAU: Jennifer Reilly)

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 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 pounds. Greens can way up to 500 pounds. Leatherbacks can get up to 1500 pounds. Wildlife-protection regulations limit turtle walks to observing only loggerheads.

Sea turtle nests marked on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Sea turtle nests marked on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

How to reserve a walk to see Florida sea turtles

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: Guides for sea-turtle walks 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 10 or 30 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 most 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. Based on the past seasons, good places to see sea turtles nesting include:

  • Palm Beach County beaches. In 2021, Palm Beach County’s 73 kilometers of monitored beach had 33,000 nests!
  • Martin County had 17,000 turtle nests last year in 35 kilometers of shoreline.
  • Brevard County is home to the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which was specifically created to protect sea turtle nests, and it had nearly 40,000 nests in 115 monitored kilometers.

Other Atlantic counties have a substantial number of nests. Even urban Broward County had about 3,000 nests on 39 monitored kilomoters of beach. (Miami-Dade had less than a thousand.) See statewide nesting data here.

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 $40 per person. There are two programs that are free  — FPL in Jensen Beach and Coastal Connections in Vero Beach.

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. Information, where available, has been updated for the 2023 season.

Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale

  • 401 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale, 33312
  • Call 954-713-0930 to make reservations.
  • 2023 dates: Select nights from  June 6- July 27
  • $40 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 website.

Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach

  • 6503 N. Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, 33304
  • Reserve by calling 954-924-3859
  • Select evenings in June and July.

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. In recent years, about half the programs saw sea turtles. Reservations start in early May.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton

  • 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton, 33432
  • 561-544-8605
  • For the 2023 season, Gumbo Limbo will offer nighttime walks Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, May 30 – July 6 (no program July 4) from 8:45 midnight (or after a nesting turtle is seen, whichever happens first)
  • The fee is $20. (For Gumbo Limbo Coastal Stewards Member or City of Boca Raton/Beach and Park District Resident, it is $15 each.)
  • Gumbo Limbo also offers day-time sea turtle hatchling releases. For the day-time program, visitors were guaranteed to see sea turtles as they 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 was open to even the youngest kids.
  • See more information on the Gumbo Limbo website

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach

  • 10900 State Road 703 (A1A), North Palm Beach, 33408
  • 561-624-6952
  • The Turtle Walks start at 8:15 p.m. and run to 11:30 p.m. or later; you must be in the park by 8 p.m. Turtle Walks are offered Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays June 2 to July 15.
  • As of early June, all Friday and Saturday night turtle walks are sold out.

Traditionally, MacArthur has one of the highest concentrations of turtle nests in the area, and only a handful of walks go without seeing a turtle most years. In 2021, there 1,200 nests, with up to 50 nests in one night!

Registration is online through Price is $20 per ticket. Attendees should be 10 or older and be able to walk two miles on the beach. The Turtle Walks start at 8:15 p.m. and run to 11:30 p.m. or later; no one may leave early as the park gates are locked.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach

  • 14200 U.S. Hwy. 1, Loggerhead Park, Juno Beach, 33408
  • 561-627-8280
  • Walks have traditionally been held on Tuesdays to Saturdays in June and July. 
  • Tickets are $22 each. (No walk-ins.)
  • Registration usually begins May 1. Schedule and registration is here. (As of late April, the website had not been updated with 2023 turtle walk information.)
  • Walks begin at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and can last until midnight.  
  • 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.
Several sea-turtle walks start at facilities where you can see sea turtles in aquariums or tanks. (Pohto by Maura Lunda via Flickr.)
Several sea-turtle walks start at facilities where you can see sea turtles in aquariums or tanks. (Photo by Maura Lunda via Flickr.)

Barrier Island Sanctuary in Melbourne Beach

  • 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, 32951
  • 321-723-3556
  • 9 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights in June and July 2023.
  • $20 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, limit turtle walks to observing only the nesting of the more common loggerhead turtle.

Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach

  • Sea-turtle walks are offered in both Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach.
  • Dates include nights in June and July.
  • Reservations are made online. Information: 321-676-1701.
  • $18 minimum donation per person.

Stella Maris Environmental Research in Melbourne Beach

  • Sea-turtle walks are offered in Melbourne Beach, leaving from Coconut Point Park. 3535 S. HWY A1A, Melbourne Beach.
  • 2023 walks will be held Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday in June and July
  • Reservations are made online starting May 1.
  • Tickets are $20.
  • Walks are held at Coconut Point Park, inside the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, the most important loggerhead nesting beach in the world. One quarter of all loggerhead nests occur inside the refuge, which ranges annually between 8,000 to 20,000 nests.
  • The organization won a grant to buy night-vision technology to “provide you with an upgraded picture taken while on your walk.”

Florida Power & Light in Jensen Beach

  • These sea-turtle walks are among very few free ones offered and thus fill up quickly. Registration opens at 8 a.m. on May 1.
  • There is a $10 ticketing charge, which can be refunded upon your arrival to the event or donated to Inwater Research Group’s (501c3 non profit) sea turtle conservation programs. 
  • 2023 turtle walks will be held Friday and Saturday nights in June and July.
  • 6501 South Ocean Drive, Highway A1A, Gate B, Jensen Beach, 34957
  • St. Lucie nuclear power plant at the Energy Encounter, Hutchinson Island, 1-888-646-6396.
  • Information and registration at the Marine Education Center.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

  • 13640 S.E. Federal Highway (U.S. 1), Hobe Sound, 33455
  • 2023 walks are offered Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m. starting May 25 to July 21.
  • Call (727) 546-2067 or make a reservation here.
  • A donation of $5 per person is requested and is cash or check only. You must bring exact change.
  • Groups will meet at the Hobe Sound Public Beach at Jupiter Island Beach Road and Hwy. A1A.
  • Reservations started being taken in early April. Sea-turtle walks go rain or shine.

Sebastian Inlet State Park, Fishing Museum

  • 9700 South A1A, Melbourne Beach, 32951
  • 772-388-2750
  • 2023 schedule: walks are conducted on Thursday and Friday nights between June 1 and July 31.
  • $15 donation paid in advance.
  • In recent years, more than three-quarters of the sea-turtle walks saw a loggerhead turtle.
  • Reservations start May 1 or soon thereafter. Reserve online at Programs are conducted by state park rangers.
  • You are responsible for your own transportation to the Sebastian Fishing Museum.

Coastal Connections in Vero Beach

This Vero Beach-based group offers these tours free, although they require a $20 refundable deposit to ensure those who register show up.

  • Riomar Beach Club 2426 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach, FL 32963
  • 2023 schedule: Wednesdays and Fridays in June and July, starting at 9 p.m.
  • Free. A $20 refundable reservation deposit is required to register. 
  • Register online starting May 1.

Canaveral National Seashore, both in Titusville and New Smyrna Beach

  • Sea-turtle walks are offered every week on Friday and Saturday in both districts of the national seashore in June and July.
  • Participants meet at 8 p.m. at the Playalinda ranger station, East of Titusville along Florida Highway 402, or the Apollo Visitor Center, 7611 S. Atlantic Ave., New Smyrna Beach.
  • For reservations, call (386) 428-3384 ext. zero.
  • $14 per person; children 15 and under are free. No children under age 8. Walks can go until midnight. Those with National Park Services passes for seniors or the disabled pay half price.
  • The park is the longest undeveloped stretch of beach on Florida’s east coast. Canaveral National Seashore website.

Florida sea turtles along Florida’s Gulf Coast

Florida sea turtles do nest along the Gulf Coast, but not as densely. As a result, turtle walks are rare along the Gulf Coast. The area with the greatest density of sea turtle nesting is Sarasota County. (If you know of a turtle walk, please add it to comments below.)

Visitors gather around a tank at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys
Visitors gather around a tank at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys. (Photo: David Blasco)

See Florida sea turtles every day

Several of the groups offering sea turtle walks 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. Here’s a list of places where you can see captive sea turtles.

You can get close to an endangered species any day of the year with a tour of a non-profit turtle rehabilitation center in the Florida Keys. Read more from Florida Rambler about the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

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Sonia Guyer

Wednesday 19th of June 2019

Is there any place near Daytona beach or new Smyrna that have where you can help with releasing turtles? My daughter loves turtles and stops on the road to help them safely across and I would love to get her a gift where she can help release them somewhere.

Bob Rountree

Thursday 20th of June 2019

Try Canaveral National Seashore, which you can access from A1A in New Smyrna (just past JB's Fish Camp). They have a robust turtle-nesting program and already are reporting more than 1,000 nests on Apollo Beach. The phone number is (386) 428-3384. Good luck!

Kelly Clinevell

Monday 22nd of May 2017

Hello, Thanks for this informative article. Are there any walks to see the hatchlings? My family will be traveling down the Atlantic Coast in mid September. Thanks for any information you might have.

Bonnie Gross

Tuesday 23rd of May 2017

Hi Kelly, It looks like mid-September is late for this activity. The only place that does hatchling walks is Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton, and those end Sept. 7. If you're exploring the Atlantic Coast and are nearby, however, you might enjoy stopping at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach or Gumbo Limbo in Boca Raton. Both are very nice facilities with tanks of sea turtles and exhibits.

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