Sea turtle nesting season is off and crawling this year with the first reported sea turtle nest in Boca Raton. The nest, made by a leatherback turtle, was recorded on Sunday morning in South Beach Park by Marine Turtle Specialists with the Boca Raton Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program based out of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.
Boca's beaches are a popular nesting destination for endangered species like the loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles. In recent years, the city, developers, oceanfront property owners, and conservationalists have worked together to create a hospitable environment for turtle nests, reducing night-time light pollution and supporting healthy dunes. Even so, turtles this year will face nesting challenges throughout the state -- including Boca Raton -- due to beach erosion caused late last year by Hurricane Sandy.
As signs of turtle nesting slowly pop up along South Florida's beaches, the public will be given opportunities to see "nature in action." Gumbo Limbo operates a robust turtle nesting and hatchling program and provides several chances for (controlled) public interaction with the animals.
Registration for the center's Turtle Walk Program for 2013 is now open. On select weeknights, ticket holders may accompany the center's staff to the beach to look for nesting turtles. The night walks begin in late May and continue through early July. After that, the program shifts to hatchling releases, which continue through late September. Tickets ($10 to $17) for both events tend to sell out and they must be purchased in person at the nature center.
Further south, Anne Kolb Nature Center in Hollywood also oversees a turtle nesting program that is open to the public. Registration for the 2013 Sea Turtles and Their Babies program will begin in May. Like Gumbo Limbo, these spots tend to quickly disappear and early registration is recommended.
In Miami, the Miami-Dade Parks' Eco Adventures division offers a Sea Turtle Awareness Program with several options for potential close encounters. A loggerhead hatchling program operates late July through mid-September multiple times each week at Crandon Park Visitors and Nature Center (Key Biscayne) and Haulover Beach Park (Miami).
In related news, today is the last day in International Dark Sky Week. While the goal of the week is to highlight "the beauty of the night sky and to raise awareness of how poor-quality lighting creates light pollution," it also compliments Florida conservationalist's efforts to promote dark coastlines during turtle nesting season (March 1 through Oct. 31). Beach-side light pollution is said to interfere with turtle hatchlings' ability to navigate safely to the ocean, as they can be drawn inland instead of toward the water.