Frequently Asked Questions

Can I visit Amelia Island and watch turtles nesting, and how can I participate?

We do not conduct turtle walks to look for and observe sea turtles nesting.  Our volunteers survey the beach at daybreak each morning looking for signs that a turtle came ashore during the night. We do invite the public to attend our excavations.  Excavations are conducted after a nest has already emerged.  An inventory is taken of the nest contents.  If live hatchlings are found trapped in the nest, they are released at that time.  Check the Excavation Schedule for times and locations.

Can I watch hatchlings come out of the nest and go to the water?

Hatchlings can emerge from a nest anytime within a 10 day window, and anytime from sunset to sun up.  It would be almost impossible to observe a hatchling emergence.  Those who have witnessed this awesome sight have just been at the right place at the right time.

Do hatchlings need a full moon to find the ocean after they emerge from their nest?

This is a myth.  Hatchlings emerge from their nest at all phases of the moon and successfully find the ocean.  Although, a full moon is better competition to the landward lights that frequently disorient hatchlings causing their death.  Sea turtles are born with the instinct to move toward the brightest directions. Under natural conditions, this direction is the light of the open horizon.

How long do sea turtles live?

Sea turtles can live 50 years or more. Through our participation in Genetics Research we have learned of a grandmother still laying nests, which makes her at least 90 years old.

How long does it take before the eggs hatch?

Sea turtle eggs have an incubation period of 50 - 60 days. The incubation period is affected by the temperature of the egg clutch.  A warmer temperature results in a shorter incubation period.    Usually the incubation period for nests laid at the beginning of the season is longer (60 – 70 days) than nests laid towards the end of the season (50-60 days).

What determines the gender of a hatching, and how can you tell what gender it is?

The gender of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature in the egg clutch during the middle third of the two-month gestation period.   For Loggerhead and Green turtles, temperatures above 86 deg F will be female, and temperatures below 82 deg F will be male.   The pivotal temperature is 84 deg F.   The gender of a sea turtle does not show until young adulthood, so you cannot tell what the gender of a hatching is.

How do hatchlings breathe under the sand?

As soon as the hatchings break out of their egg, they begin breathing the air from the spaces in between the eggs.  As they work their way to the surface, enough air remains for them to breath.  Hatchlings begin breathing the same way adult sea turtles breath, taking a few breaths with long pauses in between. 

How many nests are laid in Florida?

Along the Florida coast, sea turtles annually lay between 30,000 and 90,000 nests. Ninety percent of all the turtles that nest in the U.S., nest in Florida.

How many nests can a female turtle lay?

Females nest every two to three years, laying several nests in a season.  After digging a hole and depositing  about 80 -120 eggs, the females cover the hole with sand and camouflage the nest with more sand before returning to sea.  She may return in about 12 - 14 days and lay another clutch. Our participation in Genetics Research shows us that the same turtle will return to lay 4 – 6 nests in a season.

When do sea turtles nest?

In NE Florida, sea turtle nesting season is from May 1 - October 31.  Leatherbacks begin nesting in south Florida in February.  Green turtles begin nesting later and can nest into September with their hatchlings emerging in November.

How many species of sea turtles are listed as endangered or threatened?

All five Florida species are listed as either endangered or threatened.  The Federal Endangered Species Act lists the green, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp's Ridley turtle as endangered and the loggerhead is listed as threatened.  This makes it illegal to harm, harass, or kill any sea turtle, their eggs, or hatchlings.  It is also illegal to import, sell, or transport turtles or their products.

How many species of sea turtle are in Florida?

Five species of sea turtle can be found in Florida:  Hawksbill, Kemp's Ridley, Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Green. On Amelia Island, we typically see only Loggerhead, Green, and occasionally Leatherback turtles.

How much do sea turtles weigh?

Sea turtles range in size from the 75 -100 pound Kemp's Ridley to the 1,300 pound leatherback. The Loggerhead turtles that comprise most of our nests on Amelia Island weigh 150-375 pounds.

What should I do if I see a sea turtle nesting?

  • Stay behind her at a distance and remain quiet
  • Keep it dark. Do not use any lights, including flashlights, flash photography, and video equipment
  • Do not put hands on or near the turtle.  Any distractions may frighten or disorient the turtle causing her to return to the sea before completing the nesting process.  Any harassment of sea turtles is against the law.

What do hatchlings do after they leave their nests?

After the two-month incubation period, the hatchlings all dig out of their nest at the same time, a process that can take several days.  As a group, they leave the nest at night and crawl directly to the sea.  This first trek imprints their home beach into the hatchling. They swim with infantile frenzy to the Gulf Stream where they live in Sarsassum seaweed for the first years of life.  Once grown, the turtles are believed to return to lay their nests on the same beach. Our participation in Genetics Research shows us many turtles returning to Amelia Island for an entire season.

What is a hatchling's chance of survival?

Only about one to three percent will survive to adulthood.  Hatchlings die of dehydration if they don't make it to the ocean quickly.  Birds, crabs, and other animals also prey on the young turtles.

What should I do if I find sea turtle hatchlings emerging on the beach?

  • Watch from a distance, and away from their path to the water
  • Allow them to crawl to the water on their own
  • Keep all lights off
  • Do not touch them

What should I do if I find hatchlings wandering in a road, parking lot, or in directions other than toward the water?

Call the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch at 904-583-1913

What can I do to help protect Florida's sea turtles?

  • Remove all beach furniture at night
  • Turn off porch and outdoor lights at night during turtle season
  • Fill in holes dug on the beach during the day
  • Do not leave fishing line behind.  Dispose of line responsibly
  • Reduce the amount of plastic garbage you produce
  • Oppose events that release balloons

Does Amelia Island have a beach lighting ordinance?

Both the city of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County have beach lighting ordinances. 

City of Fernandina Beach Ordinance for Outdoor Lighting in Beach Areas

Nassau County Beachfront lighting restrictions for the protection of sea turtles

What threatens sea turtle survival?

  • Natural predation
  • Human predation
  • Commercial fishing
  • Ingesting plastic and other litter and debris
  • Artificial lighting
  • Coastal armoring and destruction of nesting habitat
  • pollution

What should I do if I find a dead or injured sea turtle on the beach?

Call the Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, Inc at 904-583-1913