May is the official start of sea turtle nesting season and an active one in Miami-Dade County. The Miami- Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department has announced that its Sea Turtle Conservation Program has successfully documented more than 6,886 sea turtle nests and released more than 585,000 live hatchlings to the sea, since it started the program in 1980.
The program can look forward to delivering thousands more to the sea, thanks to a $13,500 Challenge Grant from the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation that helped pay for a new “Turtle Truck.” The new “Turtle Truck” will patrol Miami-Dade County beaches — including Crandon Park Beach and Haulover Park Beach — from sun-up to sun-down, seven days a week, now through the end of the sea turtle nesting season (Oct. 31).
The Challenge Grant funds have allowed the Miami-Dade Sea Turtle Conservation Program, a program of the Miami-Dade County Parks Eco Adventures enterprise, to replace a rusted and failing pickup truck that it had been using for its turtle patrol runs, with a new 4×4 model that is better suited for beach terrain. The new truck is equipped with a custom topper to keep injured or sick sea turtles stable during transport.
The public is invited to join Miami-Dade Parks’ “Turtle Rangers” as they release hatchlings to the sea every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8:30 to 10 p.m., at the Crandon Park Visitor and Nature Center, 6767 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, and at Haulover Park, 10800 Collins Ave. The cost to participate is $10 per person and serves as a donation to Miami-Dade County’s Sea Turtle Fund. Advance reservations are required. Call 305-361-6767, ext. 121.
“Generous donations like this help us to carry out our mission to protect and preserve the threatened and endangered sea turtles on our beaches,” said Miami-Dade County Parks director Jack Kardys.
Donations for Miami-Dade County Parks are made through the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade. You can help through the donation of a financial gift, an in-kind gift, through sponsorship opportunities, supporting a special event, volunteering, or through an ongoing corporate partnership. Find out more by visiting the Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade at <www.miamidade.gov/parks_foundation>.
Andrew E. Sabin from New York founded the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation in 2007 to intensify his philanthropy, which primarily supports environmental and conservation groups and has a particular interest in reptiles and amphibians. Sabin also is known worldwide, as “Commander Salamander,” for his extensive conservation efforts on behalf of the Tiger Salamander.
Once a nest has been completed, it is abandoned by the mother. The eggs and resulting hatchlings are left to fend for themselves and locate the water upon emerging or die. On average, sea turtles lay 110 eggs in a nest, and average between two and eight nests a season.
Because hatchlings are small and the egg chambers are deep, it is almost impossible for a single hatchling to escape from the chamber alone. As hatchlings break free from their shell inside the egg chamber, they stimulate other hatchlings to emerge from their eggs too. Once most hatchlings have emerged from their shells, they climb on top of the discarded eggshells to propel themselves to the top of the chamber. The hatchlings near the top of the egg chamber scratch down sand from above and around them. They emerge either en masse or in small groups. Emerging together increases the chance of survival as many hatchlings can overwhelm would-be predators. A single hatchling would be an easy target.
A sea turtle nest will take 55 to 60 days to unfold baby sea turtles, known as hatchlings. The first nest is historically in mid-May. June and July are very high nesting months and known as the Peak Nesting Time. Nesting will continue until mid-September. The last baby turtles will leave about the end of October.
For information about Miami-Dade County Parks call 3-1-1, or visit www.miamidade.gov/parks/