Blog post by: Amanda Csipak
Since I began this internship in May I have come to learn about many things such as the multiple threats sea turtles face whether they are natural or not. One of these threats is caused by humans which has to do with lights shining onto the beach at night. Bright lights on the beach at night can be harmful to both mother sea turtles while they are on the beach attempting to lay eggs as well as hatchlings that are making their journey to the ocean. When it comes to the mother sea turtles coming onto the beach to lay their eggs, they wait until it is night so that they are not able to be seen as well by predators. Since sea turtles are such incredible animals, many people will walk on the beach at night using bright white lights with the intention of seeing a nesting mother. Although this is a truly beautiful process to view, using the white lights on the beach as well as getting too close to the mother can cause the her to false crawl. As I mentioned previously, the mothers choose to lay their eggs at night because they feel confident that since it is dark outside the predators will have less of a chance of seeing them. When a light is being shined at the turtle it can easily spook her and cause her to crawl back into the ocean without laying her eggs. Going out on the beach at night to find sea turtles is discouraged for this reason as well as many more. Even if bright lights are not being used, it is possible to frighten the turtle if you get too close to her and she will not lay her eggs. The mother is able to have a few false crawls before she lays her eggs but there does reach a point where she must lay her eggs and she can possibly drop them into the ocean. This is why it is so important to respect these mothers while they come onto the beach to lay their eggs.
Hatchlings can also be negatively effected when people are using lights on the beach at night. Hatchlings wait to come out of the nest until it becomes dark so that they can avoid predators as well. When they all come out of the nest they are instinctually looking for the horizon to indicate where they should crawl in order to get to the ocean. If someone is walking on the beach with a light they can easily mistake that for the horizon and begin to follow that light instead which drains a great deal of energy that they so desperately need. These adorable hatchlings have a two-day swim to reach the Sargasso Sea and they will need all the energy they can store to make this journey successful. It is also very important to turn house lights off if your house is on or near the beach so that hatchlings do not mistake that light for the horizon as well. Turning off house lights at night, not using lights on the beach at night as well as simply not searching for the turtles on the beach is a great way to avoid accidentally harming a hatchling or mother sea turtle. It is very important to take this seriously due to the fact that hatchlings only have a 1 in 1000 chance of surviving until adulthood.
If you would like to see a nesting sea turtle safely you can join us on a night walk with Leah leading the way to ensure that we do not disturb any of these amazing mothers. You can also join us on the beach for a public nest inventory where you can see the success rate of a hatched nest and possibly see a hatchling safely and properly being released into the ocean.
Sea Turtle Biologist