Thousands of hatchling sea turtles are starting to emerge from the 880 nests that dot Volusia County’s shoreline, along with tens of thousands of nests from other counties and the Greater Caribbean.
They face a treacherous trek on their way to the ocean’s cooling waters, and few will survive to adulthood. Some will be picked off by predators, while others will make the long swim to the floating seaweed beds in the Sargasso Sea. Many of these young turtles, entangled in seaweed, may be washed back to the shore by heavy surf and strong winds.
The small turtles blend in with the seaweed, making them difficult to spot. Tragically, they may die of dehydration if they are left on the beach or do not have the energy to make it back offshore.
“If you find a washback or hatchling on the beach that is in imminent danger, do not put it back in the ocean,” stressed Volusia County’s protected species manager, Jennifer Winters. “Instead, contact Beach Safety for further instruction. These animals are often exhausted and can barely lift their heads to breathe. Holding them in water or putting them in the ocean can be fatal.”
She encourages people to follow these tips:
- Make sure the turtle is out of harm’s way. Do not take it home.
- Provide shade over the turtle and determine your exact location. The address, building name, street name or GPS location are most helpful.
- Immediately notify Beach Safety at (386) 239-6414. Between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., call the Volusia Sheriff’s Office at (386) 248-1777, ext. 6.
- Keep the turtle in a quiet, dry, shaded area – even if you think it’s dead. Staff from Beach Safety or a partner organization will coordinate with you to collect the turtle.
Washbacks are brought to the Marine Science Center, where they are treated and returned to the ocean by boat when they are strong enough to swim.
Volusia County’s Environmental Management Division has trained a team of Washback Watchers, who comb the beach each day as fresh seaweed washes in during washback season, which lasts from August through November. If you would like to become a Washback Watcher in 2021, call (386) 238-4716 or visit volusiaseaturtles.org to be placed on the list for next year’s training class.