Among the local population living in the Heart of Florida’s Emerald Coast, are sea turtles. There are four species most common on our beaches: Loggerhead, Green Turtle, Leatherback, and Kemp Ridley’s turtle. They can live to be over 50-years-old and weigh more than 250 pounds! Here are three other facts about sea turtles that may surprise you, plus how you can experience sea turtles (in a safe way) while visiting Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa Island:
Baby sea turtles “imprint” on their home beach
As little hatchlings fight their way out of their egg shells and make their treacherous journey down the sand to the sea, they are memorizing their home beach. They take in characteristics like chemical, magnetic, and astronomical information. All of that helps them return to the beach they were born on as adults, where they will lay eggs 20 to 30 years later.
If you find sea turtle hatchlings on the beach, watch them from a distance. Picking them up could interfere with their imprinting process. Also, leave the hatchlings in their nest. They will come out when they are ready. Removing them before then makes them less likely to survive.
Crystals might help sea turtles navigate
Deep inside the brains of sea turtles, scientists think, is a crystal called magnetite. This crystal potentially acts like a compass, and helps the sea turtles navigate long distances using the earth’s magnetic fields.
This theory could explain why hatchlings are born with a keen sense of direction, and for Loggerhead sea turtles, keeps them in warm waters their first migration.
Studies have shown the Earth’s magnetic field guides sea turtles, but we aren’t sure yet how they’re detecting those magnetic fields.
There is also evidence suggesting other species use magnetite to guide them, including pigeons, chicken, and maybe cattle.
A Florida nail salon technician helped figure out the “lost years”
Until recently, it wasn’t known what baby turtles did for the first ten years of their lives, after making it to the sea – a period known as the “lost years.” Transmitters were too big and bulky to put on the tiny turtles to track their movement.
As technology improved, tracking tools became smaller and lighter. A marine scientist and sea turtle biologist at University of Central Florida in Orlando ran into a problem in 2014, while her and her colleagues were using the smaller devices. Since the baby sea turtles were growing so fast, and shedding their outer hardened shells, the transmitters only stayed on for a few weeks.
The nail salon technician of one of the collaborators figured out the sea turtles’ shells were made out of keratin, the same as our fingernails. Therefore, acrylic nail fill was able to secure the transmitters for months, and giving scientists more time to collect data on the babies.
Experience Sea Turtles in the Heart of the Emerald Coast
The Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau gives complimentary Nighttime Education Beach Walks. During the walk you’ll learn how the sea turtles nest on our beaches and ways to protect them and their populations.
Click here to find out when you can take a walk.
*All five species of sea turtles in Florida are either threatened or endangered and are protected by law. If you see a sea turtle, hatchling, or nest that needs help please call the FWC Wildlife Alert at 1-888-404-FWCC.