Join us as we help raise awareness for shark conservation all week long during Shark Week 2017!

Sea Turtle Nesting – Impacts from Increasing Temperature

Summer is upon us and that means we are in the middle of sea turtle nesting season. Sea turtles typically nest from May through October along beautiful coastlines all over the world. Of the seven species of sea turtles that exist, five are found in Florida!

Sea Turtles in FloridaThey are the Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Green (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). During this special time of year, there are approximately 50,000 turtles in and around Florida waters. All sea turtles that nest here are listed as either threatened or endangered with laws in place to prevent touching, harming or killing these species. The most common species that nests along the coast of Florida is the Loggerhead sea turtle.

Outdoor Education FloridaA female sea turtle lays an average of 100 eggs per nest. If left undisturbed, the eggs will hatch within 60 days and the hatchlings will race to the sea in hopes of surviving. The gender of an egg is determined based upon temperature. Eggs that incubate below 81° Fahrenheit hatch as male, and eggs that incubate above 87° Fahrenheit hatch as female. Eggs that are between these two temperatures can hatch as either male or female.

Outdoor Education South FloridaHistorically, sea turtle nests typically produced half males and half females. Since issues associated with climate change are causing temperatures to rise, nests are now hatching with a 1:6 ratio, 1 male for every 6 females. Unfortunately, climate change is not the only factor impacting the gender of sea turtle eggs. Microscopic pieces of broken down plastic, known as microplastics, are creating another unexpected threat. A new study from the Florida State University shows that an increased number of microplastics are being found along the majority of beaches surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. The highest concentrations of microplastics are being found in the natural sand dunes, a favorite location for sea turtles to nest. This threat may seem minor, but the problem is that plastics tend to hold in large amounts of heat. If enough microplastics are present in the sand’s composition, this will cause the sea turtle nests to be warmer than usual. As we already have more female sea turtles than males, this could greatly impact their future populations.

Though sea turtles have been around since the time of dinosaurs, they are facing many threats to their survival. As fortunate as we are to have so many species of sea turtles living in Florida, we do not always realize that our actions greatly impact the natural world around us. Humans are capable of doing a lot to protect our natural marine ecosystems and the species that live there. A few ways to benefit our natural species is by spreading the word about the hazards of plastic and microplastics, removing fishing line caught in trees or in the water, advocating for protected beach space, or joining an organization that directly benefits habitat restoration. Remember, we are all stewards of our natural world and it is up to us to protect it!

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