Visiting Sea Turtle Sanctuaries In Florida: Vacation Guide

Find The Best Sea Turtle Sanctuary Near You In Florida

By Taylor Fuller | Published on September 12, 2022

From the early months of spring until October, Florida welcomes more than vacationers who want to enjoy the sunshine, salty air and warm ocean. It also welcomes sea turtles who are busy laying their eggs up and down the Florida coastline. Residents and experts do all they can to protect the eggs so they can have the best chance of hatching. While you are visiting Florida before or after a cruise, just search "is there a sea turtle sanctuary near me?" Chances are, you'll find one. There are a number of sea turtle sanctuaries in Florida, and they're always open to volunteers that want to observe and learn more about sea turtles. Here's everything you need to know about visiting Florida's sea turtle sanctuaries.

tiny sea turtle crawls toward the sea. Florida.
tiny sea turtle crawls toward the sea. Florida.

When Is Turtle Nesting Season In Florida?

sea turtle eggs in a nest. Florida.
sea turtle eggs in a nest. Florida.
Turtle nesting season in Florida typically starts in March or April and runs through October, though the exact window of time varies from year to year. All along the coast of Florida, anywhere from 40,000 to 84,000 nests are laid. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that there are five species of sea turtles in Florida: the hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, loggerhead, leatherback and the green turtle. Sadly, they're all either listed as endangered or threatened, which is why Florida's sea turtle sanctuaries are so important.
green turtle lays her eggs in the daylight. Florida.
green turtle lays her eggs in the daylight. Florida.

Female sea turtles nest every two to three years and will lay several nests (with about 80 to 120 eggs in each). About two months later, these eggs will hatch and all the hatchlings will dig out of their nest at the same time and head toward the water. The cool thing is that sea turtles imprint on their home beach. So, once they're adults, they'll return to that same area to lay their own eggs.

It's an amazing phenomenon, but it's not without its challenges. A lot of effort goes into not only keeping the nests safe from wildlife but also ensuring that the female sea turtles are able to lay their eggs. During turtle nesting season, it's important to avoid shining any lights on the beach at night as it could scare a turtle laying eggs. You may come across a blocked-off area on the beach during nesting season — this is to mark the turtle nest and deter people from trampling on them. And if you're wondering, "When is turtle hatching season in Florida?" it's about two months after an egg is laid. Allowing enthusiasts like yourself to see turtle eggs hatching well into the end of the year. It's really spectacular if you get to witness it!

loggerhead turtle laying eggs. Florida.
loggerhead turtle laying eggs. Florida.
Since about 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida's beaches, it's important to keep the babies safe when they're hatching. You can visit a sea turtle sanctuary to help with this. If a turtle's nest is in a bad place, sanctuaries and research centers will move them. Once the turtles hatch, dedicated experts will help release them back into the water. This is remarkable to witness because not only are the turtles so adorable, but you can also see how resilient they are right after birth.

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Things To Keep In Mind During Sea Turtle Season In Florida

do not disturb the turtle nests sign in Lauderdale of the Sea. Florida.
do not disturb the turtle nests sign in Lauderdale of the Sea. Florida.

Remember that when you vacation to Florida to soak up the sand, sun and surf, you're sharing the beach with all sorts of wildlife, sea turtles included. You can take steps to ensure you're keeping them safe so the females can lay eggs and the hatchlings can return safely to the sea.

If you're lucky enough to see a turtle laying eggs, don't go near her. In fact, you should stand at least 30 feet away so you don't disturb her or the nest. Don't be tempted to turn on a flashlight or pull into a beachside parking lot and shine your lights over the sand. It can confuse both nesting females and hatchlings. And if you see markers or protective screening, walk around them and keep your pets on a leash. During the months of March through October, avoid walking on beach dunes and pick up any litter you may see on the ground.

green sea turtle eggs at a turtle sanctuary. Florida.
green sea turtle eggs at a turtle sanctuary. Florida.

If you want to see them hatching, that's a whole other beast. Turtle nests usually hatch at night, and it happens quickly. There are usually about 120 hatchlings in a nest, so you'll literally see a wave of sea turtles running into the ocean. They prefer cold, wet sand as it's easier for them to move along the beach when they're first out of the nest.

If you're cruising in or out of Florida during June and July, take the opportunity to join a turtle walk. Environmental groups are permitted to organize turtle walks on the Florida beaches, led by a professional. Typically, flashlights and flash photography aren't permitted because sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest direction. That's why it's so important to manage light pollution. If you witness a sea turtle nest hatching, you may see someone from a sea turtle sanctuary directing them to the ocean with a tiny flashlight! On a beach that's not surrounded by light pollution, hatchlings would be able to find their way themselves.

two sea turtle hatchlings returning to the sea. Florida.
two sea turtle hatchlings returning to the sea. Florida.
It can be tempting to want to help them, but just watch from afar and let nature take its course. If you do want to be proactive in helping Florida's wildlife, look into volunteering at a beach cleanup day. That can make for a fun adventure the whole family can enjoy when traveling in Florida while giving back to the beautiful beaches the turtles rely on yearly.
Since about 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place on Florida's beaches, it's important to keep the babies safe when they're hatching. You can visit a sea turtle sanctuary to help with this.

Visiting Sea Turtle Sanctuaries In Florida

Many amazing organizations and sea turtle sanctuaries are dotted along the coast of Florida. If you're visiting South Florida, you can visit a number of them before or after a cruise. Here are a few of the best places to see turtles.

Sea Turtle Op Headquarters

hawksbill turtle hatching from an egg on the beach. Florida.
hawksbill turtle hatching from an egg on the beach. Florida.
Made up of volunteers, the members of STOP spend several months out of their year protecting sea turtle hatchlings. This sea turtle sanctuary in Fort Lauderdale was founded in 2007 and rescues and releases sea turtle hatchlings that have been disoriented by coastal lighting (seriously, turn off your lights if you're near the beach). They've helped reduce the hatchling mortality rate by nearly 50% in Broward County. If you want to get involved, you can go on a turtle trek with the STOP volunteers and 100% of the tour's proceeds go back into their rescue operations. Their treks take place between August and September when many nests are hatching. You'll start your evening with a brief presentation and then (fingers crossed) witness a nest hatch. Remember not to touch the sea turtles! Only trained professionals can touch them if they see they're struggling.

The Turtle Hospital

If you're looking for a sea turtle sanctuary in Miami, be sure to check out the Turtle Hospital. This rehabilitation center opened in 1986. It rehabs injured sea turtles and releases them back into their natural habitat. It's a working hospital so you have to be part of one of their Guided Educational programs to visit, but true wildlife lovers will find the behind-the-scenes look into the hospital fascinating. The tour lasts between 70 and 90 minutes, so plan ahead.

Miami Seaquarium

The Miami Seaquarium has played a big part in boosting the sea turtle population in Miami through rescue, rehabilitation and release. For any turtles that are deemed too injured to be reintroduced to the wild, it has created a natural South Florida coastal habitat for them called "Discovery Keys." You can visit the aquarium and continue your research about its efforts for our oceans during your day trip to Miami.
sea turtle nesting site sign. Florida.
sea turtle nesting site sign. Florida.
Florida's sea turtle population relies on the great work of the many sanctuaries across the Sunshine State. Before or after hopping onboard a cruise in South Florida, take some time to educate yourself and perhaps even volunteer with your family at one of Florida's many sea turtle sanctuaries to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Written By
TAYLOR FULLER

Taylor Fuller is a travel and lifestyle writer. She has lived and traveled all over the world and loves to share her experiences. She is the author of The Rainbow Atlas and currently calls London her home.



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