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2021 sea-turtle walks: It’s time to register for a natural thrill

Last updated on June 25th, 2021 at 08:34 am

I live in urban Fort Lauderdale and 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 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 walks 2021: Broward beach with sea turtle nest marked.
Sea turtle nests marked on the beach in Fort Lauderdale. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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 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. Based on the past seasons, good places to see sea turtles nesting include:

  • Palm Beach County beaches. In 2020, Palm Beach County’s 73 kilometers of monitored beach had 36,000 nests!
  • Martin County had 15,883 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 $22 per person. There is one program that is free  — FPL — but it is not being offered in 2021.

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 has been updated for 2021 season. Several traditional locations are still figuring out whether to offer walks in 2021. We have listed them here in case they do schedule programs over the next few weeks.

Museum of Discovery and Science

  • 401 SW 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale, 33312
  • Call 954-713-0930 to make reservations.
  • 2021 dates June 8, 10, 15, 17, 24, 29 • July 1, 6, 8, 13
  • $21 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

  • 6503 N. Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, 33304
  • 954-923-2833
  • At 9 p.m. five nights in June and five nights in July 2021

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.  The 2021 programs will have smaller groups (no more than 25.) In recent years, about half the programs saw sea turtles. Reservations may be made by calling 954-923-2833, starting May 10.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

  • 1801 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton, 33432
  • 561-544-8605
  • The 2021 season is still being determined as Gumbo Limbo Nature Center has reopened in a limited capacity.
  • In previous years, Gumbo Limbo offered both night-time sea-turtle walks and 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 

  • 10900 State Road 703 (A1A), North Palm Beach, 33408
  • 561-624-6952
  • 2021 walks are not being offered.

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. But there are no turtle walks scheduled so far in 2021.

Information from past years: Registration is online through www.macarthurbeach.org. Price is $15 per ticket, non-refundable unless the event is cancelled by park staff. For information call the nature center at 561-624-6952 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Attendees should be 8 or older and be able to walk two miles on the beach. No flashlights, flash photography or cell phones allowed. Please do not wear light colored clothing. Tours go rain or shine and cancel only for active lightning storms.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

  • 14200 U.S. Hwy. 1, Loggerhead Park, Juno Beach, 33408
  • 561-627-8280
  • 2021 dates: June and July. See complete schedule.
  • Tickets are $22 each. (No walk-ins this year. )
  • 2021 tickets are on sale. Registration can be made online.
  • 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. No one goes home, then, without seeing a sea turtle, even if it is in captivity.
  • Turtle Walks are available in American Sign Language. Dates here.
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 

  • 8385 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach, 32951
  • 321-723-3556
  • 9 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights in June and July 2021.
  • $15 per person.
  • Reservations are made starting May 10. 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 

  • 2021 sea-turtle walks will be offered in both Melbourne Beach and Satellite Beach.
  • Reservations are made online.
  • $16 minimum donation per person.

Stella Maris Environmental Research

  • 2021 sea-turtle walks will be offered in Melbourne Beach, leaving from Coconut Point Park. 3535 S. HWY A1A, Melbourne Beach
  • Reservations are made online.
  • Walks are offered several times a week and slots are open for July walks (as of June 25.)
  • 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 

  • These sea-turtle walks are CANCELLED for 2021
  • 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.
  • In the past, these free walks filled up immediately. Information about Marine Education Center.

Hobe Sound Nature Center

  • 13640 S.E. Federal Highway (U.S. 1), Hobe Sound, 33455
  • 2021 dates: Thursdays and Fridays, May 27 to July 23, 2021 .
  • Call (727) 546-2067 or make a reservation here.
  • $5 per person donation requested.
  • Reservations started being taken in early April. Sea-turtle walks go rain or shine. More info: Hobe Sound Nature Center website.

Sebastian Inlet State Park, Fishing Museum

  • 9700 South A1A, Melbourne Beach, 32951
  • 772-388-2750
  • 2021 schedule: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights between June 1 and July 31 and are limited to eight people.
  • $10 donation
  • In 2019, 89 percent of the sea-turtle walks saw a loggerhead turtle.
  • Reservations started May 1, 2021. Reserve online at friendsofsebastianinletstatepark.org. Programs are conducted by state park rangers.

Canaveral National Seashore 

  • East of Titusville along Florida Highway 402.
  • 2021 sea-turtle walks will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Walks take place at the southern Playalinda district and participants meet at 8 p.m. at the Playalinda ranger station.
  • Reservations start on May 15 by calling 386-428-3384, ext. 223. After the first day, call 386-428-3384, ext. 0 for reservations.
  • $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.

Turtles along Florida’s Gulf Coast

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 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.

From the Editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. and International Copyright Laws. All rights are reserved. Re-publication of this article without written permission is illegal.

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