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Gulf Islands sees first sea turtle hatching Sunday night, Escambia County expects hatchlings soon - Pensacola News Journal

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Madison Arnold, Pensacola News Journal Published 5:00 a.m. CT July 28, 2020

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A rare Kemp's ridley sea turtle lays eggs along Pensacola Beach. Pensacola News Journal

Gulf Islands National Seashore had its first sea turtles hatch Sunday night and both the park and Escambia County are expecting more in the coming days and weeks.

Sea turtle nesting season is now at its halfway point and will run through October. That means some of the first sea turtle eggs laid in late May and early June are nearing their time to hatch. 

Brent Everitt, spokesperson for Gulf Islands, said the nest that hatched was a loggerhead sea turtle nest laid on May 22 in Perdido Key. He said park biologists believed most of the hatchlings reached the water safely.

In all, Gulf Islands has 38 nests, 37 loggerhead nests and one green sea turtle nest. 

"The vast majority of our sea turtles are loggerheads," Everitt said. "This is a normal break out of nesting."

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Escambia County beaches so far have seen 24 total nests, with most being loggerheads and two being the rare Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. Those turtles typically nest in Mexico and Texas, said Mark Nicholas, environmental program manager with Escambia County Marine Resources Division. 

"They're pretty rare so we don't get a whole lot of them, but actually Escambia County leads all the counties in Florida for Kemp's nesting, so having two is pretty exciting," Nicholas said.

Sea turtle and shorebird nesting season got off to a difficult start after Tropical Storm Cristobal wiped out multiple nests on county and Gulf Islands beaches in early June. Because of that, hatchlings aren't expected in Escambia County until early August.

Nicholas said this year is about average numbers-wise for sea turtle nesting season but more sea turtle nests appear through August. Pensacola Beach's latest nest was produced Saturday.

To help support the animals, Nicholas said it's important to reduce light pollution, which can confuse nesting mothers and hatchlings. Lights from flashlights, homes and cars can draw them away from the Gulf. 

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"We have a lot of trouble with them going the wrong way due to light pollution so that's the main message for right around now," Nicholas said.

Sea turtles can also be trapped by holes in the sand and furniture and toys left on the beach. 

Hatchlings that don't reach the water quickly can become prey or at risk of dehydration, starvation and death, according to a news release from Escambia County. It's important that the hatchlings make it to the gulf because only one in 1,000 lives to adulthood.

There have been a few instances of sea turtles experiencing disorientation and false crawls, meaning a nesting female sea turtle got confused or scared away and didn't lay eggs.

"We're moving along and we really appreciate the community's support in our efforts to reduce outdoor lighting and help these sea turtles, Everitt said. "Hopefully (false crawls) continues to decrease as people continue to limit or eliminate outdoor lighting."

If a beach-goers see a nest hatching or encounter hatchlings, they should call Escambia County Marine Resources at 850-426-1257.

Madison Arnold can be reached at marnold@pnj.com and 850-435-8522.

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July 28, 2020 at 05:00PM
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Gulf Islands sees first sea turtle hatching Sunday night, Escambia County expects hatchlings soon - Pensacola News Journal

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