TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Neighbors and tourists aren't the only ones heading to the beach this summer. Sea turtles are also heading ashore.
The sea turtle nesting season officially begins May 1 in both Georgia and South Carolina. The dates are a little different for some of our locations off the coast, but most areas claim May 1st through October 31st as the official sea turtle nesting season.
WTOC spoke with a curator at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island. She says throughout the next few months, female sea turtles will be coming ashore to lay their nests. The females can lay multiple nests per year, but they don't actually reproduce every year. Therefore, a sea turtle that lays her nest on Tybee this year may not return for another two or three years.
Marine experts say female turtles can continue to lay their nests all the way through mid-August. And, it usually takes around 60-days before those hatchlings are seen crawling out of their nests.
Citizens who see one of the nests are strongly encouraged to look but do not touch.
"Whether that's a nesting female or hatchlings coming from a nest, they are protected at both the state and federal level. So, you don't want to have any interaction with those turtles. It's not going to be good for you and it's not going to be good for the turtles," said Lisa Olenderski, Assistant Curator.
"Lights out" has begun along the coast. That's where everyone is urged to turn off or shield light coming from their homes and other buildings visible from the beach after 10 p.m. until Oct. 31. This is because artificial lights discourage females from nesting, which can be deadly for baby sea turtles.
This year's nesting season is extremely important because some species of sea turtles are either on the threatened or endangered list. Loggerheads are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Meaning, if your caught harming a hatchling with artificial light, you could be fined $25,000, and violating lighting ordinances could cost you $500. You could even face jail time.
Here's what citizens need to keep in mind. These sea turtles are protected which means you could be punished if you disturb them or their nests. So, it's OK to look at them from afar, but do not touch the sea turtles, their nests, or their eggs. Do, however, pick up after yourself while you're at the beach. Leaving trash behind could eventually end up in the stomachs of sea turtles.
If you plan to be out at the beach at night, do not use flashlights or take a picture with a camera or phone that has a flash. Also, if you have a spot along the beach, be sure to turn off those lights before you head to bed because sea turtles follow the brightest light source.