Every year thousands of people make their way to visit the beautiful white sands and emerald waters of the Florida Panhandle. In particular, many bring their families and friends to what has become known as “Scenic 30-A” which is a 24-mile stretch of state highway that hugs the Gulf of Mexico. As spring break season picks up, beach visitors come in droves. Eventually, most visitors make their way back home, but some stay behind and get joined by others like them – Sea Turtles!

Sea Turtle nesting season typically starts in May along the Gulf Coast and runs through October. Over the years, human intrusion has contributed to the reduction in the sea turtle population. There are four types of protected sea turtles known to nest on the beaches along 30-A: the Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, Green, and Loggerhead. In the local region, the first three are endangered and the last threatened.

Following some simple rules, helps keep the turtles safe and observers out of trouble:

1 – Avoid shining bright lights on grown turtles as they may become disoriented. Artificial lighting is more of a danger to the hatchlings than predators. They navigate to the sea by using the brightest light which is typically the moon over the ocean.

2 – Give the turtles ample room to move towards their intended location, whether it is to nest or return to the sea. Additionally, fill in holes and smooth over sand castles that you may come across on the beach because they may unintentionally trap moving turtles.

3 – Do not leave trash behind on the beach. It may distract or get eaten by turtles and other wildlife, causing them harm.

4 – if you find a nest or turtle laying eggs, call (888)404-3922 any time. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission will contact trained volunteers that will mark and protect the nest, increasing the chances that the hatchlings will survive.

Around Highway 30-A, one group of volunteers is the South Walton Turtle Watch. The organization has been around since 1995. They conduct training and recruit volunteers who then search for and document nests. They also mark off the area around nests so people will be less likely to disturb the eggs. The volunteers are required to be trained and certified in the state of Florida. It is actually a criminal offense in the state to disturb these particular turtles and their hatchlings or nest. Offenders may be fined up to $500 and/or spend up to 60 days in prison.

Visit http://www.southwaltonturtlewatch.org for more information about sea turtles and the nesting season.