Virginia Key Sea Turtle Nesting

Under the FWC marine turtle permit MTP-21-153, MORAES helps with Virginia Key sea turtle nesting survey. Each and every morning throughout the nesting season (May 1st through October 31st), our trained and permitted team lead passionate interns and volunteers across the island’s beaches to monitor, track, and document marine sea turtle nesting activity, most of which focus around the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta. The data collected from this seasonal project is imperative to track sea turtle population trends and coordinate the necessary conservation efforts on an annual basis. Proper management efforts rely on the information being collected throughout the season to accurately develop new beach polices and adjust regulations, initiate ordinances, and educate the public on the importance of sea turtles within our marine ecosystem.


As our team navigates the Virginia Beach coastline, their attention is focused on the sand, specifically the markings created in the sand overnight. As the female sea turtle emerges from the water and crawls up the beach, she begins searching for a suitable nesting, doing such in almost complete darkness. Once a site has been chosen, she will then begin to dig a body pit using all four of her flippers simultaneously before then using her rear flippers to dig a deeper hole for the eggs to rest in. Once the egg laying session is complete and the hole is successfully covered up, she will make her way back down the beach and into the water. As one might expect, this process is usually well documented in the sand and we train our volunteers and staff to use these markings to essentially recreate this story.

So what are they doing?

While most “stories” are fairly straightforward, there are a few obstacles our staff must learn to identify. Aside from weather such as heavy winds or rain affecting the quality and visibility of the nest markings, mother turtles sometimes “false crawl”, meaning they tried to find a suitable nesting site but were unable to locate an ideal location as a result of any number of factors. This process can occur multiple times from the same turtle, with all attempts failing to result in an actual nest. It’s important to properly identify whether the turtle’s emergence resulted in a nest or not, and we train each staff member and volunteer to decipher the clues, observe the formation of sand, and determine what the end result of each crawl was.


Here you can see one of our
marked sea turtle nests and excited volunteers!


       If nesting does occur, the site is safely marked off and monitored for the next ~50 days until the hatching occurs. Each site is measured, dated, and marked at a specific location, noting whether any abnormalities occur throughout the process. If all goes well, an average of roughly 100 hatchling sea turtles will methodically traverse the beach through sand, sargassum, and predators to enter the ocean and face off against a whole new line of obstacles, hopefully one day returning to the same beach as an adult to continue the amazing cycle.

Looking for ways to help? Keep us in mind next turtle season. We can always use passionate, reliable volunteers!

Funding Provided By:

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